Fragile and conflict-affected contexts are characterised by social fragmentation, low levels of trust, and weak state capacity and/or legitimacy. Civil society may lack leadership and have limited access to information or means of communication (Schouten, 2011). Under these circumstances, mobilising citizens or engaging them in formal accountability mechanisms may be premature, and can be viewed as a challenge to the state (Schouten, 2011). Where insecurity is prevalent, aid agencies need to develop an understanding of citizens’ coping strategies and relationships with the state, before engaging them in participatory development (McLean-Hilker, et al., 2010).
Some experts argue that strengthening citizen-state engagement in FCAS requires a triangulated approach that simultaneously builds voice and also listening capacity within the media, government and civil society (von Kaltenborn-Stachau, 2008). Recent experience suggests that a ‘social contract’ approach – which rather than being confrontational emphasises the role of all parties and their collective responsibility for problem-solving – can be constructive in improving accountability (Fooks, 2013). This approach indicates that working with civil society can be an effective entry point, even in authoritarian settings.
von Kaltenborn-Stachau, H. (2008). The Missing Link: Fostering Positive Citizen-State Relations in Post-Conflict Environments. Washington, D.C.: CommGAP, World Bank.
This paper, based on a qualitative review of case studies, argues that a full understanding of the dynamics shaping citizen-state relations requires a comprehensive focus on media, state and civil society – rather than on each in isolation. Media development and communication capacity within government go hand-in-hand. The report encourages donors to: i) think systematically, and ensure cross-sector planning and donor coordination; ii) work with civil society and media to arrive at a common understanding of their roles; iii) promote ‘listening’ capacity in central and local structures; iv) support inclusive civil society networks, and downward accountability within them; and v) support civic education programmes that promote public understanding about the right to information.
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McLean-Hilker, L., Benequista, N., & Barrett, G. (2010). Broadening Spaces for Citizens in Violent Contexts (Citizenship Development Research Centre Policy Briefing). Brighton: Institute of Development Studies.
This brief examines the evidence of the impact of everyday violence and insecurity on space for citizen engagement and voice. It argues external actors should work at both state and community levels with the involvement of local residents. External actors must gain a detailed and nuanced understanding of local power dynamics and actors, particularly the complex relationships between violent and non-violent actors, and between everyday violence and political violence. Citizens adopt coping responses (e.g. partial citizenship or self-censorship, peaceful coexistence with violent actors, parallel governance or security structures), but these are not necessarily benign. Interventions should build on existing sources of resilience, ‘safe spaces’ and structures for change.
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For further resources, see the section on strengthening citizen engagement in state-building processes in the GSDRC’s fragile states topic guide.
Schouten, C. (2011). Social accountability in situations of conflict and fragility. Bergen: U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, CMI.
This briefing note presents lessons from examples of social accountability mechanisms in fragile and conflict-affected states. It calls for donors to pay greater attention to analysing state and civil society capacity for engagement. Based on experience, donors should: i) identify and support local accountability mechanisms, based on a mapping of existing capacity and identification of potential change agents; ii) strengthen partnerships across sectors, demographic and geographic divides, including through peer-support and network-building; iii) strengthen the social contract, by understanding power dynamics, and supporting alliances that cut across the public-private divide.
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Fooks, L. (2013). Within and Without the State: Governance and Fragility: What we know about effective governance programming in fragile contexts. Oxford: Oxfam.
This paper presents lessons from experience of implementing the DFID-funded ‘Within and Without the State’ programme in South Sudan, Yemen, Afghanistan and the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel. It finds that working with civil society actors can be effective even in situations where they have limited capacity and power to engage with the state (e.g. in authoritarian settings). To achieve change, it is necessary to broker relations between civil society groups, other powerful non-state actors, and the state (e.g. through policy days, public forums and targeted meetings). This triangulated approach helps support the development of the social contract. Aid agencies should also develop a better understanding of gender inequality as a driver of conflict, and informal power arrangements that support or constrain change. Overall, the process of citizen-state engagement is as important as the outcome.
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For further resources, see the GSDRC helpdesk report on interventions to increase levels of trust in society.
See also DFID guidance on working effectively in fragile states in the GSDRC’s fragile states guide.