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  • Report
  • 11 December 2019

Donors at the triple nexus: Lessons from Sweden: Chapter 4

Organisational structures and systems

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Organisational structures

Lessons: The organisational structure for governing official development assistance (ODA) expenditure in Sweden is not overly complicated and is designed to support the principled separate governance of humanitarian assistance. The division of responsibilities between different headquarters' thematic and geographic teams within the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs (MFA) does not present insurmountable obstacles to a joined-up approach but does demand regular communication and routine co-working. The recent creation of a nexus working group within Sida should help to consolidate and develop cross-departmental thinking and action and improve inclusion of the peace leg of the nexus.

Taken to an ultimate conclusion, working towards a coherence model might have radical implications for organisational structure, implying the dissolution of thematic teams and multidisciplinary focus on countries or regions. However, for practical and principled reasons, this is not seen as appropriate for Sweden. Its current – relatively straightforward – organisational structures do not present fundamental obstacles to joint working, beyond the inevitable and surmountable tensions and territorial divisions that any departmental model experiences.

Responsibility for Sweden’s ODA is split between several agencies (Appendix 4). The MFA is the ministry with primary responsibility for ODA.[1] It directly manages about a third of this and supervises implementation of the rest by other government agencies – primarily Sida, but with smaller amounts channelled to the Folke Bernadotte Academy (FBA), the Swedish Institute (which promotes overseas interest in Sweden), the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency and Swedfund, the development finance institution. The nexus is relevant to all agencies, but the organisational structures and systems of MFA and Sida are critical as they manage the bulk of development and humanitarian spending, as are those of the FBA, although to a lesser extent, since it informs policy and programming on peace.

Within the MFA, various teams cover areas of work of relevance to the nexus, including the regional departments, which are responsible for the bilateral relations with countries, the UN Policy department, the Department for International Development Cooperation and the Department for Conflict and Humanitarian Affairs. The humanitarian team covers both the international policy processes and relationships with the multilateral organisations which fund core humanitarian support. Connections with counterparts within Sida on the nexus are not formalised, but communication is regular, as colleagues convene around specific issues, themes and countries. The idea of a more formal cross-team Sida-MFA working group is currently being explored and could be helpful to both make the connections with the MFA’s core support to multilaterals and facilitate wider policy coherence.

Within Sida, teams are organised under eight departments: three geographic regions which cover operational programmes, three internal organisational support departments, and two covering policy, innovation and partnerships. Although its remit is global, the Humanitarian Unit is housed in the Asia, Middle East and Humanitarian Assistance department. The senior experts responsible for peace and security are housed in the Department for International Organisations and Policy Support. There is no single locus for development policy or practice as such – this responsibility is shared across all the headquarters’ departments. Staff have suggested that this may be part of the reason why nexus coordination is difficult and has tended to default to the humanitarian team: the humanitarian team is a discrete Stockholm-based entity, while development (including peacebuilding) responsibilities are dispersed throughout headquarters, countries and regions.

For specific countries and regions, there appears to be a good level of cross-working between teams, departments and institutions. MFA, FBA and Sida staff meet regularly to share information, meet with geographic departments and take opportunities to consult and involve each other. Joint involvement in the multidimensional poverty analyses and midterm reviews also provides opportunities for travel to field locations. This not only ensures joined-up planning but also fosters communication and shared recognition of risks and vulnerabilities.

Within country teams, Sida’s internal evaluation of humanitarian-development interaction noted how important regular country team meetings with compulsory humanitarian attendance are to fostering cooperation. As explained in a later section, this is reliant on having dedicated humanitarian capacity in-country, which is not the case everywhere. One senior manager has also noted how there is still room for improvement in ensuring joint working at a country level, learning from best practice and providing the tools for ‘effective teaming’.

Thematically, there have been various attempts to bring staff from different teams together to develop joint thinking and action on the nexus. Within the MFA, there is now an informal working group on the nexus, established in 2018, to collect lessons learned, develop policy and knowledge and actively link to ongoing discussions on the subject with the UN, World Bank, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Development Assistance Committee (OECD DAC) and the EU. Within Sida, a new triple nexus working group has just been established in mid-2019, mandated by the Sida Directors group. This brings together 10 people – two from each operational department, including peace, development and humanitarian specialists and led by the Lead Policy Specialist for Peace and Security. Unlike the previous resilience working group, this seems set up to succeed, drawing authority from the operational guidance, mandate from top leadership and with the potential of further resourcing if required. It is, however, at the time of writing, at a very early stage of defining its workplan and ways of working, and it remains to be seen how it will balance its efforts between developing and rolling out global guidance, sharing knowledge and experiences and supporting practical experience in the field.

Within the MFA, Sida and the FBA, it appears that more could be done to actively engage coordination with peace colleagues in thematic thinking around the nexus to help move the thinking from the ‘double’ to the ‘triple’ nexus. The challenge now is to include the peace perspective and peace staff in a way that builds on the humanitarian-development synergies built to date, and which encourages inclusion of and ownership by all expertise groups. Specifically, within the MFA, the DAC peer review suggests that coordination be increased with the MFA’s UN Policy department, the body that manages the contribution to the UN peacebuilding fund, to which Sweden is the largest donor.[2]

Suggestions for Sweden as a donor

To build on recent efforts to boost communication and collaboration, Sida and the MFA could:

  • Create a cross-team Sida-MFA working group to connect their approaches to multilaterals and support wider policy coherence.
  • Ensure that peacebuilding colleagues from the MFA’s UN Policy department and from the FBA are included in working group initiatives to develop the peace leg of Sweden’s nexus approaches.
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Leadership and ownership

Lessons: The senior leadership team at Sida – all of its departmental directors – have communicated a clear steer that working at the nexus is an agency-wide expectation and priority. This should help to continue to shift the perceived centre of nexus gravity from the Humanitarian Unit. Strong country-level leadership remains crucial to enable effective nexus programming and to creatively deploy the full range of ‘Team Sweden’s’ toolkit, including funding allocations, system support and political engagement.

The triple nexus demands clear leadership: a three-fold combination of strong and equal leadership direction from senior management at a global level, active support for a network at the technical level and strong team management at country level. Where there is a lack of explicit ownership and leadership, working-level initiatives may struggle to gain traction and lack incentives for uptake elsewhere.

Historically, there has been a sense that leadership and ownership for the nexus has come from the Humanitarian Unit, as this is where the impetus and initiatives have often come from and where the principled parameters have been set. There is now a clear steer from the highest levels of management that it is a collective responsibility – the directors of all departments have set this as a joint priority for Sida, in keeping with the Policy Framework and the OECD DAC recommendation.

Given the amount of delegated authority given to country directors of development, their leadership is also essential to set the agenda and ‘give permission’ for joint approaches. As Sida’s internal evaluation notes: “in the cases where the most progress has been made, reference is made to the importance that the manager ‘dares’ to be flexible, understands the issues, is risk-inclined, permissive and prioritises resources for collaboration”.[3] Their ability to see opportunities, make connections and promote adaptiveness is critical. For example, the evaluation attributes progress and new approaches in Afghanistan to a new head of team and having staff with both humanitarian and development knowledge. In other cases, staff have noted that conservative country leadership has been a barrier to action.

Engaged country leadership is also necessary for Sida to support and influence other parts of the system. On its own, Sida cannot shift the incentives for change or the centre of funding gravity. Wider system leadership and coordination of the New Way of Working is proving to be patchy, with limitations to buy-in from many quarters and in many countries. Similarly, it appears that Sida’s engagement with these in-country structures is dependent on its own staff capacity and interest: in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Somalia, where Sweden has an established presence and strong nexus leadership, it plays an active role in donor groups and coordination discussions and mechanisms. This is, however, discretionary and lacking in other settings and would benefit from a clear Sida and MFA-wide position on Sida’s role in the New Way of Working and collective outcomes. In-country engagement may need to call on Sweden’s wider political engagement in-country – using the broader toolbox of ‘team Sweden’ at the embassy and ensuring risk-sensitive policy coherence, particularly when it comes to matters of peace and security.

Suggestions for Sweden as a donor

To translate the senior leadership steer into consistent country leadership, Sida and the MFA could:

  • Embed expectations for risk-sensitivity, cross-disciplinary collaboration and adaptiveness into selection processes, training and performance management of country leadership staff, especially in fragile settings.
  • Clarify expectations for country team leaders to engage with country-based efforts to work at the nexus, particularly in New Way of Working pilot countries.
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Staffing and skills

Lessons: The recent recruitment of a new cadre of nexus-focused in-country staff is an important investment in skills and capacity to lead humanitarian-development-peace programme connections. These staff will help often overstretched teams to identify, create and develop opportunities. At the same time, in parallel and in the long-term, skills, knowledge and capacity need to be mainstreamed in all teams and performance management could make it explicit that staff should be working in a connected way.

Generally, Sida’s staffing is small in proportion to its ODA spend, and the administration budget has not kept pace with increases in Sida’s ODA and spend in fragile states. Sida recently undertook an internal qualitative and quantitative audit of its personnel. Humanitarian staff count, in particular, is out of kilter with spend: 30 staff in Stockholm were directly overseeing the expenditure of over US$443 million. Recent ministerial announcements of increased investments in staffing may go some way to address these issues.[4] Limited capacity can of course have its upsides – as one staff member noted, one benefit of being a small donor with few staff and departments is that it makes coordination much easier. Overall, however, a lack of staff time is a challenge to developing the nexus in theory and in practice.

In-country presence is – as we have seen – critical in ensuring practical connections at the nexus. A growing proportion of MFA and Sida staff is located overseas, rising from 25% in 2013 to 38.5% in 2017. This is part of the decentralised and context-responsive model – a model which, according to the DAC peer review, was “particularly welcome in fragile contexts”.[5] The Swedish National Audit Office evaluation noted that officers in embassies had a key role in ensuring the nexus but that staff often had limited time, opportunities and expertise to ensure collaboration. Having humanitarian staff within the in-country team in embassies was seen to be critical to ensure that development approaches included a crisis-risk perspective, as well as consideration of crisis-affected and insecure parts of the country. Managing humanitarian allocations directly from Stockholm allows for an even-handed global process in accordance with humanitarian principles. However, this means that there is not always a dedicated staff member with humanitarian knowledge in the country team and making it the part-time responsibility of a generalist in-country programme officer is often not sufficient.[6]

In answer to these staffing capacity gaps, Sida has taken the bold move to prioritise recruitment of 10 resilience or nexus-focused staff members – new posts created in mid-2019 and deployed to country or regional offices.[7] They have been recruited to bring the skillset, prior expertise and the official job description to be able to support and catalyse work across the nexus.

Recruiting specific nexus roles is an important investment, both for the practical capacity it provides and the signal of intent it delivers. Ultimately, however, making connections to multi-faceted problems should be a natural part of the culture, mindset and approach of all staff. The 2017 internal evaluation concluded that staff understanding of the humanitarian-development nexus varied widely, was very dependent on the individual and therefore needed to be more explicit in all roles and objectives. This goes for all three ‘legs’ of the nexus and has been particularly noted on the development leg: it noted that development staff need to have competent understanding of humanitarian needs and approaches, as well as of resilience, risk and vulnerability.[8] This needs to be formalised as an expectation, rather than reliant on trickle-down and goodwill: without clear links to objectives and performance management there is no incentive or accountability for staff to think and work in a connected manner.

This needs to be supported and mirrored by staff capacity at the Stockholm level. Sida currently has two Stockholm-based staff who have furthering nexus connections as a major part of their role – one within the Humanitarian Unit, who has recently started, and one within the Africa team, who makes the connections with the development side and who has proven experience of developing Sida’s resilience approach. Both staff are on the newly formed nexus working group, the other members of which also have an – albeit smaller – proportion of their terms of reference dedicated to working at the nexus. Like the group, the exact terms of reference and approach for this staff is yet to be fully defined. There is, however, a high level of momentum, commitment and direction and outputs are being developed quickly.

Suggestions for Sweden as a donor

To complement investment in specific nexus posts, Sida could consider:

  • Integrating expectations of cross-disciplinary working in staff performance management.
  • Ensuring opportunities for cross-learning between nexus-specific roles and staff movement between countries with different levels of experience.


  • 1
    In 2017, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs was responsible for 78% of Sweden’s official development assistance – the other 22% comprised funding spend within Sweden on refugee hosting costs, as well as EU development assistance funded by the EU membership fee.
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  • 3
    Sida, 2017. Internal evaluation: Interaction between humanitarian aid and development cooperation – From operating plan prioritisation to practice, unpublished.
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  • 4
    In September 2019, the development minister announced this and an increase to Sida’s administrative budget of US$19 million in 2020.
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