default Power, Politics, and Change - How International Actors Assess Local Context

Author: Jenna Slotin, Vanessa Wyeth, and Paul Romita
Institution: International Peace Institute
Publication Date: 2010
Keywords: Stabilisation, Conflict


This report presents an analysis of conflict, governance, and fragility/stability assessment tools being usedby bilateral and multilateral actors.  It investigates how and whether assessments actually affect international actors’ strategies and programmes.  The document provides a critical look on how to better use assessment tools in order to ensure interventions are based on a nuanced understanding of complex political dynamics in conflict-affected and fragile states.

Key Issues:

In recent years, donor governments and international organisations have developed a number of frameworks and tools to assess governance, conflict, and fragility.  This study finds the use of assessment tools have produced mixed results in terms of their impact on planning, decision-making, and programming.  Although producing good quality analysis is important, the extent of an assessment’s influence is determined by more than just the content or quality of analysis.  The use and usefulness of assessments is mainly determined by five key factors (pages 10-17):

  • Clarity of purpose: Different organisations have varying perspectives on the objectives of an assessment, how it should be conducted, its target audience, and the use of its results.
  • Timing and timeframes: Timing determines whether and how the results of an assessment are used, those that miss the ‘window of influence’ are likely to have little impact.
  • Interests and incentives: Individual and institutional interests and incentives impact the effectiveness of assessments.
  • People and competencies: Certain skills are particularly valuable and the use of external consultants to conduct assessments has benefits and drawbacks.
  • Links between assessment and planning: Inadequate attention is paid to how assessment tools fit into broader strategic planning processes.

External actors need to be realistic about their expectations on what assessment tools and frameworks can accomplish.  Assessments are part of broader political analysis informing decision making, much of which is done informally.  Furthermore, the focus needs to shift from the tools to promoting a culture of analysis where staff is encouraged to “think politically” about strategies, programs, and day-to-day implementation.  To enable this, cultivating multiple sources of information and analysis locally and internationally is crucial.

The paper recommends assessments linked consistently to an overarching planning cycle.  This requires clear protocols setting out:

i) how assessment feeds into planning or programming,
ii) the appropriate link to monitoring and evaluation and
iii) how to disseminate the results of assessments to avoid their becoming one-off exercises.

Tailoring assessments for end users, their information needs, and targeting and conveying information in a way it can be readily fed into planning and decision-making processes helps ensure assessments are more effectively used.

Where interagency or whole-of-government planning is the primary objective, practitioners tend to be sceptical about assessment methodologies.  In these cases, the emphasis is almost entirely on process—specifically, how to use the information and analysis produced through an assessment to help different actors agree on a basic storyline of the situation.  Here the goal is “good enough” analysis and a basic level of agreement among key players in order lay the foundations of a common strategy.

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