Political inclusivity is the theme of the moment. We’ve seen it driving populist movements from the Philippines to the United States; underlying the “Brexit” debacle in the United Kingdom; and weaving through the UN’s recent reviews of its peacekeeping and peacebuilding work.
But what does it mean for peacekeepers and development specialists that have grown up in a government-to-government world?
No-one has a 100% success rate working in fragile states. In fact quite the opposite — it’s an all-too-familiar feeling when our best efforts get over-taken by events on the ground. The grass gets crushed when the elephants fight, as the old saying has it.
That’s a hard fact to face up to, and we spend much of our professional lives finessing it for financial contributors, colleagues, and ourselves.
This is not too healthy, so let’s change things up a bit.
Oftentimes, it feels like political principals are actively resisting making a decision. Delays fritter away precious opportunities, while compromises lead to strategic plans a mile wide and an inch deep. Meanwhile critical weaknesses go unremedied until it’s too late, because no-one wants to face up to the trade-offs.
In such cases, it’s all too easy to yell that leaders should “do their job”. I’ve done this myself—frequently and vigorously.
July’s round table for the London Conflict / Fragility group focused on a question that has come up again and again in previous sessions. If we’re really committed to “demand-driven” approaches, then we’ve got to be committed to empirical investigation of what works.
That might mean trying out the minimum-viable-version of an approach before we commit to a big, multi-year investment.
Evaluation is much too focused on impact, and not enough on process. This is counter-intuitive, and yet is true.
Imagine if Apple’s designers collected usability feedback on iPhones – their ease of use, durability, merits over other products. Then they took the forms and handed them out to workers on the factory floors in Shenzhen that produce the components.
Georges Clemenceau once quipped that war is too important a subject to be left to the generals. The same is true for efforts to reshape and stabilise countries in crisis.
The stakes are very high and our choices about how to engage are not esoteric, nor hugely technical in nature. They would benefit from informed debate in the media, on charitable boards, and in parliamentary institutions.