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Event Recap: A Political Approach to Making Security & Justice Programs Work

On May 12, 2014 the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) organized a seminar titled ‘A political approach to security and justice programming: making it work in practice.‘ The event was the first in a Security and Justice seminar series in the UK to explore how politically-informed programming can be operationalized. The opening event featured Dr. Andrew Rathmell from the University of Exeter. You can read a summary of the event below or watch the full video clip here! (Many thanks to Brendan Halloran for bringing this event to my attention.)

Credit: Luis Sanchez Davilla/CGAP

Credit: Luis Sanchez Davilla/CGAP

About Dr. Rathmell: Dr Andrew Rathmell is an experienced public policy practitioner and scholar who combines unique experience of interdisciplinary academic research, with strategy advice to the UK and US governments, and frontline delivery experience in the toughest of conflict-affected environments.  Andrew has provided strategic advice to the UK, US and coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq and to leading private sector organisations.  He has also delivered development and stabilisation programmes in Baghdad and Helmand. 

We, as academics, practitioners, policymakers, all agree vigorously that security and justice programs can’t be purely technical. They need to be political as with development as a whole. But we also know that injecting real political approaches has been hard. If you look at the work where people have tried to do this, with the political economy analysis, conflict analyses, using some of those analytical tools, quite often these have been add-ons. They haven’t really impacted foreign policy making programming in this area. Even if we’ve got the theory on how to do it, we haven’t actually done it very much.

Similarly on the supply and demand side, we’ve done quite a lot of work to tie together demand and supply side approaches to security and justice programming. Again, I suggest often they’re quite disconnected.

Problems with The Theory of Change Approach

What we’re trying to do is bring about political change in some ways. Dating back to the 50s, there has been a rise and fall of security and justice. The popular aspects of security and justice reform has been up and down over the years. Unfortunately, quite a lot of what has happened has led to theories of change in programming, which I think are quite absurd. Unfortunately, we end up with a program intervention which is something like training police, equipping courts with IT systems, training judges, building forensic labs, and the assumption in the program is that doing these things will fundamentally shift crucial power structures in that country. How the police or security forces work in a country goes to the heart of political economy and how relations are structured in a country. Many programs assume that doing one of these fairly narrow technical interventions will have an impact on the politics of the country. While we can say that is an absurd theory of change, I challenge you to look at programs that don’t actually do that even now.

Justice & Security Reform: Historical Context

If you go back to attempts by countries to transpose modern security and justice sectors, you can at least go back to the 17th century and even beyond that. Peter the Great imported a lot of expertise from Europe, the Ottoman Empire did the same in the 19th century, and the Japanese did the same in the early 20th century. There are a lot of examples where they felt the need to ‘modernize’ or develop, and import security and justice sector expertise. They may not have been implemented in the way we talk about nowadays, but a lot of the technical elements were the same.

Read any of the literature on police reform in the States and you quickly get an idea of how difficult it is to reform an institution like the police. How intractable certain institutions are to reform. What we’re trying to do with S&J reform is massive, large scale social change, behavior change.

Regional Successes and Failures in Justice/Security Reform

There have been relative successes, relative failures and some in-betweens. Looking at the political successes of security and justice, we have seen relative successes in East Europe and the Balkans to some extent. The political context of the relations with Europe and the domestic context have been particularly important there in achieving some successes.

In contrast, in areas like Pakistan and Central Asia, where in some cases equal parts of technical assistance have been provided or loan funding has been given by some of the international financial institutions, we’ve been much less successful in achieving any significant change in security and justice institutions. In places like Pakistan, Central Asia, and some of the Middle Eastern countries, you see a much stronger set of vested interests and a negative political economy, which has hampered and led to diversion of those technical and financial resources. In many cases, when you see security assistance programs in parts of Africa and Central Asia, a lot of the assistance have promoted repression and avoided reform.

How S&J Programs Have Acted More Politically in the Last 15 Years

We’ve tried to apply tools: political economy analysis, stakeholder mapping, conflict analysis, etc. Governments and practitioners have tried to apply a range of tools to give themselves a better understanding of the political dynamics, the environment, the stakeholders and then to shape programs around that. There have been some successes, some failures.

Common Delivery Problems

There are 4 problems that we’ve encountered in trying to act more politically with S&J programs.

Quality of understanding: It is about really trying to get a deeper understanding of what these interventions are about and what the current situation is. Often times there is a belief that the end-all solution is better policing. In many environments, we believe there is a policing issue because there are various things police structures are supposed to do from community security to community safety, to investigations, restorative justice, etc. Frequently we jump to a police solution and, usually if you’ve worked in the field, you know that’s the last thing you want but it tends to be the default position that we go for.

Templating: Simply taking a template and importing it to somewhere else. To some extent, beneficiaries often ask for this. If they’re a state institution, often they ask for this.

Quality of Thinking: This is slightly different from quality of understanding. Quality of understanding is the deep understanding of what the real dynamics are. Quality of thinking is a real tendency to act rather than to think. Many might argue that academics and NGOs have spent too much time thinking and not acting. On the other hand, there’s quite a tendency to spend the time, the effort, and the budget in acting rather than in thinking.

Technocratic Solutions: There is an approach that is quite reminiscent of what we thought we learned from the 50s and 60s. The approach to development in the 50s and 60s was partly about capital injection and loans, but a lot of it was this assumption that if you inject skills and expertise and raise the skills and knowledge of local communities, local actors and government institutions, that they would be able to move forward to the next stage of development. In S&J, in the last 20 years or so, I’ve still seen quite a lot of that assumption that if you uplift the skills of beneficiaries, they might be local elders in a Jirga, they might be police officers, they might be prison officers, that this is going to be enough to bring about a change.

Isomorphic Mimicry: If something looks like something else, it might not behave like it. There’s a tendency to create solutions that look like other ones, but are not really the same. They’re completely different. Take the police or military, if they have standard operating procedures, they have uniforms, they have command and control structure, they report to parliament, the assumption is they behave like the British or the German police even if you’re in the Central African Republic or somewhere.

There’s more literature that has come out that makes the case that if a police force or court system does take onboard certain norms of behavior, certain systems and processes, there is a chance that it may over time begin to act in accordance with those norms because not to do so would create dissonance between what it’s supposed to do on paper and what it actually does in practice. So there is value in creating these isomorphic systems, but we shouldn’t fool ourselves.

Different Theories & Analyses Practitioners Can Use for Security and Justice Programs

Complexity Theory: There’s a lot of buzz over the last decade about the application of complexity theory or chaos theory. Applying complexity theory to a limited extent in these environments is valid.

Networks: Some programs have begun to use social network analysis to do detailed stakeholder mapping that’s applied to security and justice. Understanding how networks work in society is very powerful. It can be both positive and negative. It can be negative because there are ways that networks propagate negativity. You can have a negative effect that spreads throughout the network and is very disruptive. Often that comes down to conflict dynamics. But if you look at how networks can actually reinforce each other positively, you can have a much broader impact.

Behavioral economics: It’s been applied in very small but significant ways and it’s beginning to have an impact. It has been applied in more stable environments in certain European countries and the West.

Social Science Research: The application in this area has been partial, patchy, and limited, but useful in certain cases. We all talk about analyzing the political economy marketplace and in certain cases, we’ve done that reasonably well, but often it’s not really internalized or integrated in S&J programming. This is the same with conflict analyses. The anthropology/sociology of power: there’s a little bit of work on this in the Middle East and South Asia, looking at the political economy of power and how repression works in post-authoritarian states, but it’s limited and the application is quite limited.

Emerging Approaches

Integrative Approach: Bring together political engagement, public and financial management, civil society, private sector and the security and justice aspects. I’m amazed at how infrequently parliamentary reform or PFM is integrated into S&J programming. It’s a fairly simple thing to do.

Campaign design: How you shift the behaviors of the target audience in a campaign-y way.

System Dynamic Modeling: Not applied much in the S&J domain but there’s potential there to do a lot more effective work actually trying to model how these dynamic systems work and shape interventions around those.

A New Model to Support Justice and Security Programs

To have any institution functioning effectively to deliver security and justice, you need to align a number of things. You need to align capabilities (which is what we mainly focus on in many of these programs), incentives (why people should change their behavior), and politics. Any effective program needs to align those, not just focus on one of those. Security and justice outcomes for the public don’t just come from one institution such as a police force, prison system, or a court. They come from a range of different organizations operating through a network.

It’s about understanding how the network works, rather than the individual institutions. What that means in practice, is to understand how the public receives security and justice benefits, you need to understand what the public expects from their providers, understand how the network works together to provide these, understand how the organizations function (which is the more classic part of institutional analysis) and how the organizations provide the services by understanding both their capabilities and incentives. The incentives piece is where the politics comes in. So much of our work is around capabilities but the incentives part is the key to all this.

The key is to come up with programs to assess how the capabilities and incentives work in an organization and then design interventions that shape those and then crucially, when working with public sector officials (such as the defense or justice ministry), to give them the tools to engage with the public  to make decisions about that.

Recommendations for Donors

We’re still stuck in this trap of unrealistic expectations. We have to be unrealistic to get funding to persuade decision makers to say this is worth doing. If we point out to decision makers how difficult this is, chances are we won’t get the funding. But the more honest we can be about time, scale, and goals, the better.

These programs are about small scale strategic interventions to shape incentives rather than deliver lots of capabilities that don’t necessarily fit with large scale programming.

Recommendations for Practitioners and Researchers

S&J programming is about shifting political calculus by those who hold power and resources. Shifting political incentives is much harder to measure.

The attempt to do better evidence-based programming is based on the assumption that we can draw out causality. We don’t actually understand how causality works so we need to be careful in assuming we can draw out causal change. There is a case for saying we look at correlation. If we can simply show that a certain set of interventions correlates with certain outcomes that might be enough without assuming we really need to understand causality. This might be controversial for those arguing for theory of change approaches.

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This entry was posted on November 25, 2014 by in Event Recap.

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