Lessons from governance interventions in fragile and conflict-affected states


Please identify key literature and summarise any recent (since 2011) evidence on lessons learned from donor attempts to improve / reform / transform governance in developing countries, particularly in FCAS. We are particularly interested in any evidence generated on lessons learned from “politically-smart, locally-led” approaches.


Governance programmes include a broad range of issues, from support to parliamentary processes and elections, to state-building and rule of law interventions. The evidence base on governance interventions is fairly broad and rigorous, incorporating a mix of academic, policymaker, and think-tank literature. Details on lessons, however, tend to be limited. Much of the readily available literature provides only a short description of lessons, with few details expanded upon.

Common lessons across different types of governance interventions include:

  • Understand social, historical and political context: The importance of understanding social, historical and political context is highlighted across governance interventions in fragile and conflict-affected states (see for example Brown et al. 2013; Tostensen and Amundsen 2010; Domingo and Denney 2012; UNDP 2012). Social, political and conflict analysis tools can provide useful contextual data (Luchsinger 2010).
  • Get the right staff: The capacity of staff is consistently mentioned throughout the literature as an essential component of good programming. Staff should be experienced and have the appropriate expertise and networks to engage in the specific type of programming (Booth and Unsworth 2014; Brown et al. 2013).
  • Be flexible: Flexibility has been proven to be beneficial. Particularly in FCAS, programmes and staff often need to adapt to changing contexts and new opportunities (Brown et al. 2013; Lucas 2014).
  • Provide long-term engagement: Long-term engagement has yielded better and more sustainable results across a variety of interventions, including in politically smart and locally-led approaches (Brown et al. 2013) and parliament and electoral assistance (Tostensen and Amundsen 2010; Rao 2014b).
  • Adhere to do no harm principles: This is particularly important in FCAS. Do no harm approaches have been crucial in state-building and in support to parliaments and elections (Mcloughlin 2012; OECD DAC 2010).
  • Country ownership and leadership: There is a strong consensus among the literature that capacity building initiatives for government institutions in FCAS should be nationally owned and led (Lucas 2014). Country ownership includes identifying priorities, development policies and programmes, and coalition building (Lucas 2014).