How can governments in fragile and conflict affected states (FCAS) plan and manage reforms when everything is urgent and important, and when capacity and resources are low? How can external actors strategically support the fulfilment of essential and expected state functions? What are the recurring challenges and trade-offs that face FCAS, and how do these affect state legitimacy, capacity and authority? And what processes and tools are available to help prioritise and sequence reforms?
This Topic Guide explores these questions. It provides an overview of the evidence that examines the sequencing of statebuilding and peacebuilding reforms in FCAS. The literature indicates there is no blueprint sequence. However, there are suggested, and contested, hierarchies of state functions. And there is evidence documenting how reforms in one area have had spillover effects in other areas of reform. Therefore, the literature suggests more focus on: (1) the common challenges and trade-offs of sequencing reforms; and (2) the process of prioritisation and sequencing.
There is no sequence
The literature widely suggests that better sequencing of reforms can improve resilience and development outcomes. But there is limited evidence on how sequencing has been done in practice, what sequences have been used, or how these have affected outcomes. The very idea that it is possible, or desirable, to sequence areas for reforms is contested. Most texts recommend that a context-specific sequence should be developed. Key themes from the literature include the following:
- The importance of prioritisation and sequencing. The literature widely claims that prioritisation and sequencing can support better: focus and timing of reforms; management of competing demands; understanding of needs, development trajectories, key actors and institutions, and pathways to exit fragility; agreements on common goals, roles and division of labour; value for money; and understanding of risk.
- Statebuilding and peacebuilding objectives have become the central objectives of international assistance to FCAS. While not uncontested, many authors assert that to be effective and resilient to crises, a state must develop or rebuild state capacity, legitimacy and authority. Peacebuilding and statebuilding is understood as a long-term process of rebuilding state-society relations.
- Non-linear, complex development trajectories. An increasing focus on complexity theory in development suggests that development: is non-linear; involves multiple interdependent dynamics and elements; is sensitive to initial conditions; is self-organised; is constantly evolving; and that results cannot be linked to specific causes.
- Context-specific approaches. Priorities and sequences are context-specific, as fragility comes in many forms. There are no blueprints, instead best-fit and good enough governance are the best that is possible. Applying lessons learned from one context to another context is risky. However, there are also many challenges in designing context-specific reforms.
- The contested and limited roles of external actors. Statebuilding is a broadly endogenous and iterative process. When external actors do engage, they are usually one actor among many. The choices available to them are country-specific and limited by internal and external factors. Donors are not homogeneous actors, and the different sections engaged (defence, development, humanitarian, and diplomatic) make different sequencing and prioritisation choices. External actor involvement is widely contested and considered fraught with tensions and contradictions. The literature contains many examples of unsuccessful reforms supported by external actors, and some argue that external actors should ‘do nothing’. However, political and public pressure to ‘do something’ means that external actors usually do engage.
There are contested hierarchies of state functions
It is common to conceptualise FCAS according to the fulfilment (or not) of ‘survival’ and ‘expected’ functions of the state. There is much debate about what these functions should be, and whether it is possible to establish a hierarchy among them. It is often argued that survival functions should be the priority. Others argue that action in both areas is needed. But there is limited evidence to substantiate these debates. More evidence explores how reforms in one area affect reforms and outcomes in other areas, and the potential trade-offs. Key issues and challenges include:
- Political settlement. A political settlement is often considered a primary factor determining the success or failure of statebuilding and peacebuilding efforts. Many authors argue that it should precede progress in all other areas, and inform approaches to priorities and sequencing. However, in practice this is difficult as political settlements are constantly evolving and are often intractable. Common challenges include: how far security and development can proceed in the absence of a political settlement; whether donors should engage where there is an exclusive political settlement; and defining roles and limits for external actors.
- Democratic reforms and political liberalisation. There are mixed perspectives on whether, when and how to carry out democratic institutional reforms in FCAS. Some argue that promoting political liberalisation in countries that have experienced civil war creates the conditions for peace. However, others suggest that political and economic liberalisation can increase the likelihood of violence. Common challenges include: the relationships between elections and civil unrest, and elections and (exclusive or inclusive) political settlements; whether state capacity and authority is required before pluralistic political development; and whether there are preconditions for democratic reforms.
- Security and justice. Security, justice and the rule of law are ‘survival’ functions of the state, and frequently considered prerequisites for economic and social development. Common challenges include: how far security can be achieved without sacrificing justice and human rights; constitutional and legal reform; limited access to basic justice services; and understanding the role of informal systems of security and justice.
- Economic foundations are usually considered an ‘expected’ state function, but rebuilding the economy, employment and livelihood opportunities are thought to reduce the likelihood of a return to conflict, and to improve citizens’ well-being. Common challenges include: whether and when to promote economic reforms; whether reforms can be promoted in the absence of a stable political settlement; the influence of politics on the economic reform agenda; and understanding the role of actors in the informal economy.
- Revenues. Restoring basic administrative and fiscal capacity is considered a survival function. Reforming state revenues can improve the social contract between state and citizens; improve the transparency of public finances; pay essential public salaries and services; and help allocate resources to reconstruction priorities. It is often considered a precursor to policy implementation. Common challenges include: using windows of opportunity to introduce reforms that may be contested at another time; and introducing systemic reforms too quickly without supporting basic functionality.
- Service delivery is often considered an expected function, but people need basic services for survival. It is also considered a way to demonstrate visible ‘quick wins’ of a peacebuilding and statebuilding process. Common challenges include: understanding the relationship between service delivery and state legitimacy; ensuring non-state provision of services supports, rather than undermines, state capacity and legitimacy; limited state capacity to deliver services (especially geographically); the dilemma between pursuing short term, visible impacts versus slower, long term change; and the inclusivity of services.
Common cross-cutting trade-offs that apply to these reforms include:
- Footprint trade-offs – e.g. how large and intrusive the international presence is; the scope of reforms; and the assertiveness of local versus international actors.
- Duration trade-offs – e.g. long-term versus short-term engagement; too much, too soon; quick wins versus slow reforms; and speed versus quality.
- Participation trade-offs – e.g. who to engage with; who to listen to; broad versus limited inclusion; and focusing on state/formal or non-state/informal.
- Dependency trade-offs – e.g. tensions of externally-assisted (or driven) reforms.
- Coherence trade-offs – e.g. organisational coherence across different actors; coherence between the values of external and domestic actors; and need versus capacity.
More focus on the process of sequencing?
Much of the literature recommends more focus on the process of prioritisation and sequencing. This thinking has led to the development of a variety of frameworks, diagnostic tools, and guidance. While these have improved donor analysis, the application of these analyses in programming is often limited. Frameworks, tools and guidance include:
- Statebuilding and peacebuilding frameworks. Donors in FCAS and partner governments increasingly use ‘frameworks’ to coordinate aid, strategy, resource mobilisation, and programming with other actors. Examples include: joint assessments; compacts; peace agreements; and donor conferences.
- Tools for assessing the causes of fragility and conflict, and peacebuilding and statebuilding policy responses. Diagnostic tools typically focus on examining: regime characteristics, capacities and trajectory; the strengths and weaknesses of the state; and the actors, institutions and dynamics that affect instability. Examples include: fragility indexes and typologies; political economy analysis; conflict assessment frameworks; participatory approaches; political settlements analysis; dilemma analysis; country social analysis; needs assessments; and a state-society analytical framework.
- Statebuilding and peacebuilding toolkits (usually theoretical models) aim to shape donor thinking about the overarching approach to reforms, and about how different types of reform will affect dimensions of the state. Examples include: DFID’s integrated statebuilding and peacebuilding toolkit; and the authority, legitimacy and capacity framework.
- Aid instruments. Choosing aid instruments in FCAS is often based on a context-specific assessment of government capacity and the level of consensus on policy priorities. According to aid effectiveness principles, donors should aim to increase funds spent through government systems, but this can be challenging. Common aid instruments used in FCAS include: programme aid, budget support, project aid, global funds, technical cooperation, multi-donor trust funds, social funds, community driven development, humanitarian aid, and joint programmes.
- Monitoring and evaluation activities help facilitate feedback loops, continuous learning, and reprioritisation as needs and capacity change. Evaluation approaches are shaped by conflict analysis and conflict sensitivity. An example of a useful tool for monitoring and evaluation is Theories of Change.