Sector-wide approaches and the coordination of assistance

A ‘whole of government’ or ‘comprehensive’ approach combines political, security and development interventions (DFID, 2010b, p. 2). They require donors to ensure cross-fertilisation of expertise and experience across relevant departments and that the right mix of expertise exists on the ground (OECD-DAC, 2007b). In contrast, ‘sector-wide approaches’, implemented jointly by multiple donors, combine ‘a broad range of diplomatic, legal, social, economic, security and political instruments’ and entail working across a number of security and justice sub-sectors, such as policing, courts and prisons, or the military and intelligence services (OECD-DAC, 2007b, p. 67).

Born (2009) argues that donor coordination is important. Experiences from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Timor-Leste show that international assistance is less effective when not guided by an overarching concept of security and justice provision, where communication is ineffective, and where donors have diverging views of the role and reform of security and justice actors (Born, 2009).


A lack of political support: There is often a mismatch between external expectations of a sector-wide approach and local realities. Even when external coordination exists, recipient governments may not be prepared to implement long-term plans (Schnabel, 2009). In Cambodia, for example, lack of local political support for an ambitious Australian-led sector-wide reform strategy led to abandonment of planned activities and a shift to a narrower focus in select areas where the political space to work existed (AusAID, 2012).

Differing interests across sub-sectors: Sector-wide coordination led by partner governments can take time to develop and suffer from setbacks. In Jamaica, for example, differing interests amongst the military and the police and a lack of coordination among justice institutions prevented coordination (Stone et al., 2005).

Tension amongst security providers in Jamaica

Experience from UK-led security and justice assistance in Jamaica highlights that tension can be common in a range of contexts, not just fragile and conflict-affected situations. Here, the Jamaican Defence Force considered itself superior to the Jamaican Constabulary Force, who they considered as corrupt, undisciplined and ineffective. This affected coordination, as each organisation had its own intelligence system, and mistrust meant that they rarely shared information.

A key lesson from this case study is that it is important to understand and manage tension. Close collaboration between practitioners working with different security providers could help to facilitate more effective collaboration.

Source: Stone et al. (2005, p. 10).

A lack of coordination within donor country departments: Donor countries often find it difficult to apply whole-of-government approaches. The UK Government’s experience shows that difficulties arise from the different mandates and priorities of departments, and communication problems including the use of different terminology (DFID, 2010b).


Politically realistic and pragmatic approaches: Elements of security and justice programming which focus on a particular sub-sector can be effective if they are considered as part of larger programmes and contribute to wider policy objectives. The focus should be on a gradual approach to reform, without the need to address all sectors at once (Schnabel, 2009).

Tactical linkages: According to SU (2014), strategic partnerships such as sector-wide coordination committees have limited effectiveness. It is important to understand how individual programmes fit into the bigger picture and then to identify and develop tactical partnerships to address the specific safety, security and justice problems. International coordination is also a key aspect – other donors may be supporting programmes in other security and justice areas that could be mutually reinforcing.

Tools and guidance

Sector-wide working:

  • The OECD-DAC Handbook on Security System Reform. The Handbook covers ways in which to link individual sector reforms into a broader system, including guidance non sequencing and entry points for sector-wide working (see OECD-DAC 2007b)

Guidance to assist with developing ‘whole of government’ approaches:

  • DFID Briefing on Working Effectively in Conflict-affected and Fragile Situations – Briefing Paper C: Links between Politics, Security and Development (see DFID, 2010b)
  • OECD-DAC Guidelines on Whole of Government Approaches to Fragile States (see OECD-DAC, 2006)
  • AusAID. (2012). Building on Local Strengths: Evaluation of Australian Law and Justice Assistance. Canberra: Australian Agency for International Development.
    See document online
  • Born, H. (2009). Security Sector Reform in Challenging Environments: Insights from Comparative Analysis. In H. Born & A. Schnabel (Eds.), Security Sector Reform in Challenging Environments. Geneva: DCAF.
    See document online
  • DFID. (2010b). Working Effectively in Conflict-affected and Fragile Situations – Briefing Paper C: Links between Politics, Security and Development. DFID Briefing. London: DFID.
    See document online
  • OECD-DAC. (2006). Whole of Government Approaches to Fragile States. Paris: OECD.
    See document online
  • OECD-DAC. (2007b). Handbook on Security System Reform: Supporting Security and Justice. Paris: OECD.
    See document online
  • Schnabel, A. (2009). Ideal Requirements versus Real Environments in Security Sector Reform. In H. Born & A. Schnabel (Eds.), Security Sector Reform in Challenging Environments. Geneva: DCAF.
    See document online
  • Stone, C., Miller, J., Thornton, M., & Trone, J. (2005). Supporting Security, Justice and Development: Lessons for a New Era. New York: Vera Institute of Justice.
    See document online
  • SU. (2014). Policing the context: Principles and guidance to inform international policing assistance. London: Stabilisation unit. See document online.