Security and justice - the mismatch between policy and practice

21st July 2014

Donors are keen to improve the safety, security and access to justice of the people they are trying to help. But the British and Australian governments, the World Bank and the European Commission all admit that their programmes have not come close to achieving the ambitious security and justice agenda set out in policy statements and donor guidance documents, such as OECD-DAC’s Handbook on Security System Reform
 
Why? Because donor approaches remain overly technical and insufficiently political. Programmes generally focus on building the capacity of state security and justice institutions. 
 
As I note in my recent paper, Security and Justice: towards politically informed programming, security and justice are core state functions. They are a key source of power for elites. So it’s not surprising that their control is often contested by an array of actors, ranging from national state institutions such as the police and military right through to local community-level providers such as chiefs, militias and vigilante groups. 
 
Policy-makers, donor staff and the academic community have all been grappling with the challenge of how to ‘work politically’ in security and justice assistance. There is recognition that political elites must be engaged in the process, but that tensions between the interests of elites and citizens have to be considered. Complex political dynamics and power relations need to be understood, from the national to the local community levels.
 
“Policy-makers, practitioners and academics have been advocating these principles for years”
A politically nuanced approach calls for a better understanding of context, engaging with local stakeholders on a more equal basis, and ensuring that objectives are realistic and projects can respond to changing circumstances. There is nothing particularly new about these good practice principles, all familiar to anyone with experience in the development sector. Policy-makers, practitioners and academics have been advocating these principles for years.
 
In my experience in this sector, nothing has ever suggested that donor staff were not aware of these principles. At the security and justice practitioners’ courses that we ran at the University of Birmingham from 2010 to 2012, for example, many of the participant discussions focused on this very issue.
 
Yet a policy-practice gap persists. The situation we find ourselves in was perhaps best summed up in a debate amongst the security and justice community as part of an e-conference back in 2009. Participants recognised the mismatch, accepted that change is needed, and that there was a limited but growing evidence base on which to base programming decisions. So far, however, donors have not been able to apply what they’ve learned, or translate policy into practice. 
 
Why might this be the case?
 
One problem is that security and justice programming is a particularly high-risk area. It is arguably one of the most ‘political’ of all areas of development assistance. Often, donors are operating in fragile and conflict-affected contexts with rapidly changing political dynamics, corruption and violence. Security and justice actors, whether national or local, may not buy into democratic governance and human rights norms – they may even be responsible for human rights violations. It is understandable, then, that working with these actors and justifying that work to a domestic audience is challenging.
 
Because security and justice programming is so politically sensitive, the ‘right’ people are needed for this kind of work. They need to have good knowledge of the local context. They need the political skills to deal with the often competing interests of a range of actors. Building such skills and knowledge takes time. It can’t be done when there is high staff turnover, and this is often a problem because of the difficult, complex environments where security and justice assistance is generally directed.
 
So what is the way forward? There are no easy answers. These issues present real dilemmas for donors. 
 
However, one way forward would certainly ask donors to become better at sharing knowledge, and then at applying learning to programming. Donors are aware that they need to improve in this area. 
 
But it’s also fair to say that the body of evidence for security and justice programming is weak. There are evidence gaps in several areas, including:
 
  • the role of political leadership in bringing about reforms and transforming organisational cultures;
  • evaluations of donor engagement with non-state and local community-level actors;
  • how to apply to security and justice programming the lessons learned from working politically in other development sectors.

Security and justice is still a relatively new concept; it only emerged on the donor agenda in the late 1990s. The evidence base will improve over time. But closing the policy-practice gap will still ultimately depend on donors being able to translate this learning into practice.

 

Image: A traditional court in South Sudan (UNDP South Sudan / Brian Sokol)

0 Comments

Leave a comment

The views expressed in Opinions posts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of DLP, the Australian Government or DLP's partner organisations.

Author

Shivit Bakrania

Shivit Bakrania

Shivit Bakrania is a freelance research consultant and analyst, and an honorary research associate at the International Development Department, University of Birmingham. He specialises in conflict, security and development, with interests in: the politics of security and justice provision; how participatory approaches can help to improve safety, security and access to justice; ethnic and communal conflict; and urban violence.

Read more

Related items

Security and justice – the mismatch between policy and practice

What hinders more politically nuanced security and justice programming?

Opinion by Shivit Bakrania21st July 2014
Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal24th November 2014

Masculinity and sexual violence in India

Will the shocking Nirbaya case shift attitudes?

Opinion by Martin Rew16th September 2015

The inclusiveness test: making change work

Guest post for openDemocracy

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal4th November 2015

The challenge of realising Pacific democracies' development potential

How can Pacific democracies deliver for their citizens?

Opinion by Julien Barbara8th July 2016

Climate change and adaptation in the Pacific Islands: watering down women's security?

How women leaders are challenging a narrow adaptation agenda.

Opinion by Nicole George7th March 2014

Politics - the problem and solution to poor services?

Why - and how - does politics trump everything else in service delivery?

Opinion by Claire Mcloughlin13th March 2014

Shuffling the decks: quick fixes versus long-term stability

Guest post for Development Progress on 'post-conflict' DRC

Opinion by Suda Perera22nd January 2015
Opinion by Heather Marquette9th March 2015

Inclusive political settlements: who and what gets included, and how?

First of six posts on political settlements by researchers, policymakers and practitioners.

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal13th July 2015

Developmental leadership: putting inclusiveness first

Inclusiveness should be the first step towards building more robust states.

Opinion by Seth D. Kaplan24th September 2015

Parliamentary strengthening: the IDC report

Having presented evidence to the UK's International Development Committee, what of the final report?

Opinion by Tam O'Neil9th February 2015

Cancer and the links between medicine and development

Guest post for From Poverty to Power

Opinion by Chris Roche15th April 2015
Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal29th March 2016

Politics shape services; and services shape politics

How governance and sector specialists can help each other understand the politics of service delivery

Opinion by Richard Batley19th June 2014

Being 'there': Bermuda Triangulation

Fieldwork in fragile places part 2: data difficulties

Opinion by Suda Perera6th November 2014

Being 'there': reflections on fieldwork in the DRC

Fieldwork in fragile places part 1: the security dilemma

Opinion by Suda Perera5th November 2014

‘Crows who come in search of dollars’: NGO legitimacy in conflict zones

Do political dynamics affect NGO legitimacy more than performance?

Opinion by Oliver Walton19th August 2014

What do we do on Monday? Political settlements in theory and practice

The value of the political settlements framework

Opinion by Edward Laws15th July 2015

Medellin - more than a miracle

From the most murderous city on earth to 'a new global standard for urban policy': the politics of change in the wake of crisis

Opinion by Cheryl Stonehouse4th March 2014

Identifying rebels with a cause (and effect)

'Power, politics and positive deviance' is the theme of DLP's 2016 annual conference.

Opinion by Chris Roche1st December 2015

Authoritarianism, democracy and development

What does the evidence say?

Opinion by Tim Kelsall27th November 2014

Peace and security in Africa: from summitry to solutions

Will today's African leaders build on Mandela's legacy?

Opinion by Stefan Wolff20th December 2013

Somaliland's route to peace

What can we learn from Somaliland's approach to peacebuilding? 

Opinion by Sarah Phillips12th December 2013

Education, development, and the problem with consensus

Why rethink the international consensus on 'quality basic education for development'?

Opinion by Michele Schweisfurth7th April 2014

The road to transparency in resource-rich Myanmar

Myanmar's EITI process and its contribution to broader reform

Opinion by Taylor Brown1st April 2016
Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal26th April 2016
Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal15th October 2015

It's all about inclusion, but how?

Guest post for the World Bank

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal6th April 2016

Politics, risk and development: three takeaways

Reflections from two conferences

Opinion by Chris Roche19th February 2016

Forgotten South Sudan tangled in factionalism and failed politics

A toxic blend of complex historical identity politics and short-term elite politicking

Opinion by Jonathan Fisher4th September 2014

Corruption: is the right message getting through?

The unintended consequences of raising awareness of corruption

Opinion by Caryn Peiffer12th August 2015

Innovation: transactional or transformative?

Given the fascination with 'innovation' in the field of development, it's time to discuss what the word might mean.

Opinion by Chris Roche23rd March 2015
Opinion by Heather Marquette10th November 2014
Opinion by Susy Ndaruhutse11th September 2014

Adding gender and power to the TWP agenda

Why bring gender into Thinking and Working Politically?

Opinion by Sally Moyle6th August 2015

Do donors have realistic expectations of their staff when it comes to 'thinking and working politically'?

Is learning to ‘think politically’ like learning a new language? 

Opinion by Heather Marquette9th June 2014

International donors - aiding or abetting?

The 'donor's dilemma' is discussed in a new DLP paper.

Opinion by Niheer Dasandi10th September 2015