What do we know?

Evidence guide

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Safety, security and justice are priorities for poor people and are associated with development outcomes, including the prevention of violent conflict, accountable and effective states, economic growth and service delivery. Security and justice programming aims to support development, as well as peace, stability and democratic governance, which donors see as beneficial to their own economic and security interests and reflective of their values.

The literature emphasises the need for programming to be people-centred (rooted in how citizens experience insecurity and injustice) and multi-layered. This is because, in fragile and conflict-affected contexts, the provision of safety, security and justice involves a range of providers acting at different levels, including state actors, local providers and networks, and non-state actors. The lines between these actors are blurred – they associate with each other in varied ways and have varying degrees of autonomy from the state.

While donor policies recognise the benefits of a multi-layered approach to security and justice, programmes have tended to emphasise idealised technical approaches based on state institutional capacity building. Such programmes have demonstrated limited results in improving citizens’ safety, security and justice and in contributing to development goals.

Adopting a multi-layered approach has significant implications for security and justice programming. Key challenges identified in the literature include:

  • The political nature of security and justice: The control of security and justice provision underpins the exercise of political power, and security and justice providers at different levels have competing interests. Addressing deficits in security provision, including discriminatory practices against women and human rights violations, is a political process, and might not be in the interests of domestic power-holders.
  • Local ownership: There are dilemmas associated with choosing local counterparts and allowing local stakeholders to determine the outcome of assistance. Even when domestic elites seek security and justice reforms, the results of their partnership with donors might reflect donor preferences but not citizens’ concerns. Local ownership is particularly problematic regarding gender issues: for example, governments’ implementation of non-discriminatory laws and policies can be hindered by lack of political will or by prevailing social norms.
  • The risks associated with security and justice programming: Concerns in donors’ home countries that aid may support actors potentially involved in human rights violations can lead donors to be risk averse, limiting their ability to look beyond the state and work with a range of providers.
  • Coordination: In complex environments it is challenging to combine diplomatic, security and developmental instruments across a range of security and justice sub-sectors. Coordination among multiple donors with differing views can also be challenging.
  • Design, monitoring and evaluation: There are few proven or replicable models for programming in fragile and conflict-affected contexts. Interventions are often based on implicit and inaccurate theories or embedded in the skills, approaches and perspectives of individuals and organisations.
  • Data collection and evidence: Gathering evidence and data is often difficult due to the risk of violence, the lack of access to data sources, the risk of manipulation by those producing the data, and the need to ensure confidentiality and safety for citizens, particularly women and other vulnerable groups. Furthermore, it is often difficult to identify what should be evaluated because change in complex contexts is multi-directional and unpredictable.

Approaches for effective programming proposed in the literature include:

  • Contextual analysis: A multi-layered and people-centred approach begins with an understanding of who actually provides safety, security and justice; what works; and what citizens are already using. It is important to develop an understanding of the local political context, taking account of the views of citizens (including women and vulnerable groups), the roles of different actors, local power dynamics and linkages. Gender and conflict analysis, as well as human rights assessments, are important tools.
  • Addressing social norms and power relations: Gender discrimination and human rights violations are related to social norms, attitudes and beliefs, and power relations. These can be tackled at community level by engaging with individuals, groups and civil society organisations that can influence social change and hold governments to account.
  • Realistic, pragmatic and flexible approaches: Pragmatic and gradual ‘best fit’ approaches are most likely to be sustainable. Donors might need to make concessions to ensure that initiatives are inclusive and domestically driven.
  • Balancing long-term goals and short-term results: Change is a long-term, generational process in the contexts where security and justice programming takes place. Programmes can aim to achieve short-term results while encouraging gradual progress towards long-term goals.
  • Design, monitoring and evaluation: Security and justice assistance often takes place in complex fragile and conflict-affected contexts. This makes robust design, monitoring and evaluation processes all the more important. Empirical evidence and up-to-date analysis underpin accurate and valid theories of change and encourage rigorous monitoring and evaluation activities. Approaches to collecting data and evidence include building domestic research capacity (among communities and state providers) and directing greater resources towards collection and analysis at a domestic level.

Key policy documents

  • DFID’s Explanatory Note on Security and Access to Justice for the Poor (see DFID, 2007)
  • DFID’s Rule of Law policy approach (see DFID, 2013b)
  • The OECD-DAC’s Enhancing the Delivery of Justice and Security (see OECD-DAC, 2007a)
  • The OECD-DAC Handbook for Security System Reform: Supporting Security and Justice (see OECD-DAC, 2007b)
  • The UN Security Sector Reform Integrated Technical Guidance Notes (see UN, 2012)
  • The World Bank World Development Report 2011: Conflict, Security and Development (see WB, 2011)
  • DFID. (2007). Explanatory Note on Security and Access to Justice for the Poor. DFID Briefing April 2007. London: DFID.
  • DFID. (2013b). Rule of Law policy approach. London: Department for International Development.
  • OECD-DAC. (2007a). Enhancing the Delivery of Justice and Security. Paris: OECD.
    See document online
  • OECD-DAC. (2007b). Handbook on Security System Reform: Supporting Security and Justice. Paris: OECD.
    See document online
  • UN. (2012). Security Sector Reform: Integrated Technical Guidance Notes. New York: United Nations SSR Task Force.
    See document online
  • WB. (2011). World Development Report 2011: Conflict, Security and Development. Washington D.C.: The World Bank.
    See document online