Promoting Governance Reforms in Fragile Environments

On January 12th, the OpenGov Hub co-organized an intimate workshop on governance in fragile environments, along with Global Integrity, Saferworld, and Development Gateway. These organizations (within and outside the OpenGov Hub network) collaborated to convene practitioners from the fields of governance and peacebuilding/conflict. The purpose was to share experiences, learn from one another, discuss how to integrate their approaches, and outline what more open and adaptive ways to strengthen both governance and peacebuilding might look like. Participants came from diverse organizations, including bilateral and multilateral donor agencies, government, think tanks and civil society organizations. 

Why Discuss this Topic?

Fragile states are by definition where governance is most broken. What's more, now most of the world's poorest people reside in fragile and conflict-prone environments. 

Building peace or strengthening governance are formidable enough and highly complex challenges on their own - combining these two to improve governance in conflict-ridden areas can be even more daunting. Well-meaning but poorly implemented efforts to promote peace and governance in such environments could even cause significant harm, given many factors (such as marginalization of minority populations, lack of trust in institutions, and complex power relations).

Yet there are also great opportunities for changing the discourse on this topic now. The new Sustainable Development Goals paradigm and initiatives like the New Deal give international momentum to this work, and highlights the importance of both peacebuilding and governance as critical elements of development (particularly with Goal 16). In addition, many development donor agencies are allocating more resources to fragile environments and to governance-related programming. As such, now is an opportune time to bring together experts from both fields to learn from one another and integrate their approaches to better achieve both goals.

Some Takeaways

  • Peacebuilding and Governance Fields Have Much to Learn from Each Other - Peacebuilders are more familiar with dealing with messy narratives, power imbalances, "bottom-up" approaches, and navigating complex trust/power networks. Meanwhile, governance advocates may help introduce more systematic and structured approaches, including more "top-down" approaches at the national level
  • Need to Redefine How We Measure Progress and Success - The myriad complexities associated with this work require that all parties involved rethink how we measure and define success. This can be particularly helpful to encourage donors allocate additional resources to this work, given generally short funding timeframes and pressures to illustrate "results."
  • It is Challenging But Necessary to Balance Short-Term Security with Longer-Term Stability and Development - How this tradeoff is managed must always be tailored and adapted to the specific context; there are no universal blueprints. 
  • Need to Assess the Role Different External Organizations/Institutions Can Play - It is important for all external actors supporting governance in fragile environments to 1) gauge and identify local, popular concerns and priorities; 2) identify and untwine various narratives that may be driving conflict, and 3) identify and respect existing power structures and social networks of trust (even if informal).
    • In addition, the type of organization doing this work (ex: donor vs. think tank vs. program implementer) matters. Because this work is inherently risky and hard to predict, all organizations should identify their own tolerance for risk and ability to become more agile and adaptive in programming, and coordinate with others to together have more concerted, broad-scale, impactful efforts.

Next Steps

If your organization specializes either in peacebuilding/conflict work or in governance and is interested in joining future convenings on this topic, please contact us at 

Nada ZohdyComment