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Donors at the triple nexus: lessons from the United Kingdom: Chapter 2

UK policy and strategic planning

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Overarching global policy framework

Lessons: The UK 2015 Aid Strategy shifted the agenda towards a focus on conflict and stability and established a strategic framework for action in fragile states. While this promotes complementarity between humanitarian and development policy priorities and the integration of a peace lens into development programming, building coherence with peace aspects of the triple nexus poses a greater challenge, and complementarity should be demonstrated as a minimum. Given the tensions between political agendas on stability and security and needs-based principled humanitarian assistance, it would be helpful for donors to collectively discuss and identify security and stability activities which are, or are not, relevant and appropriate to the nexus. Equally, it would be useful to define the limits of the nexus concerning the scope of humanitarian assistance to go beyond addressing severe needs in the context of finite resources.

The UK Aid Strategy released by the Treasury and DFID in 2015[1] sets out overarching though largely separate policy priorities for different aspects of the nexus: tackling extreme poverty, humanitarian assistance, and peace and security. The Building Stability Framework (2016)[2] expands upon the objective to “strengthen peace, security and governance” articulated in the 2015 Aid Strategy and establishes a framework for addressing the drivers of conflict and instability and making progress towards the development–peace dual nexus. The 2017 Humanitarian Reform Policy[3] expands upon the objective, “strengthening resilience and responding to crisis” and sets out priorities for humanitarian reform.

The 2015 Aid Strategy signifies a shift towards a greater focus on conflict and stability, addressing the root causes of conflict as a prerequisite for sustainable development and positioning ODA as a tool to respond to global challenges and the UK’s national interests, extending the responsibility for managing ODA to other government departments. This is reflected by the commitment made in the strategy to spend 50% of ODA in fragile states. Therefore, the UK’s focus on the nexus, as one interviewee described it, is not the primary objective of the UK aid agenda but a by-product of its strategic focus on engagement in fragile contexts. The UK allocated 43% of ODA to fragile states in 2017.[4] Figure 1 shows an increase in the proportion of UK ODA allocated to conflict, peace and security-related activities in all countries from 2.5% in 2013 to 5.1% in 2017.

Humanitarian and development policy priorities share a focus on resilience, as articulated in both the 2015 Aid Strategy and the 2017 Humanitarian Reform Policy and as a core focus of the humanitarian–development dual nexus. However, there are greater challenges in building synergies with the ‘peace’ aspect of the nexus, especially concerning the humanitarian–peace dual nexus. This is partly because commitments on the ‘triple nexus’ are very new and less developed but also reflects tensions between political agendas around security and stabilisation and needs-based principled humanitarian aid concerning the humanitarian–peace dual nexus. These challenges are not unique to the UK, however. There is a demand for more thought collectively among donors about the types of peacebuilding or security activities that are relevant and appropriate to the nexus, and those that are not, and about the limitations of the nexus regarding the scope for humanitarian activities given the potential risk of alignment and the limitations faced in expanding focus beyond addressing severe needs in the context of finite resources.

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Policy focus and progress on the nexus

Lessons: The UK has often used its established focus on risk, resilience and preparedness as a springboard for engagement on the triple nexus. More recently, recognising that engagement on the nexus goes beyond resilience, the UK has shifted towards a broader focus on protracted crises. However, this shift is not captured in official policy, highlighting the importance of stretching the current policy framework to go beyond humanitarian reform and cover crisis and risk as a necessary foundation for engaging on the nexus. Where commitments to deliver on the nexus are made primarily in humanitarian policies, explicit recognition of the nexus in broader aid and sector strategies is key to expanding ownership of this agenda.

The UK has historically been advanced in recognising the importance of the nexus and has developed innovative approaches to building synergies between humanitarian and longer-term development programming through an emerging focus on protracted crises and addressing their underlying causes and longer-term impacts. The UK was an early champion of risk, resilience and preparedness approaches, and cash transfers, which it has used as a springboard for engagement on the broader nexus.

Resilience has been an overt objective of UK aid since 2011. The 2011 UK Government Response to the Humanitarian Emergency Response Review presented disaster resilience as “a new and vital component [of our] humanitarian and development work”. Building on this, the UK humanitarian policy, Saving lives, preventing suffering and building resilience (2011),[5] put resilience at the centre of its approach to addressing disasters, including a commitment to embed resilience-building in all DFID country programmes by 2015, integrate resilience into work on climate change and conflict prevention and improve the coherence of development and humanitarian work. The 2015 UK Aid Strategy has strengthening resilience as one of four strategic objectives for UK aid, and DFID’s 2017 Humanitarian Reform Policy stresses emergency preparedness and building resilience, to “bring together humanitarian and development funding to support education, jobs, health and social protection given the protracted nature of crisis and harness humanitarian and development responses for a bespoke response to crisis”.[6]

The 2018 review of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) on DFID’s approach to building resilience to natural disasters[7] concludes that “DFID has taken a well-considered approach to mainstreaming resilience to natural disasters and has helped to promote the inclusion of resilience into the global development agenda”. However, it is unclear how DFID now tracks resilience and resilience spend across programmes, countries and portfolios. The 2016 report by the National Audit Office (NAO) identified DFID as driving focus among international partners on resilience, and having made steps to embed resilience at country level.[8] DFID’s role in establishing the new Centre for Disaster Protection – anticipated to drive new thinking in early and innovative financing – illustrates its commitment to this agenda.

However, resilience is only one aspect of the nexus, which covers a broader set of activities including preparedness, early action, risks, peacebuilding, recovery and market access. There is some confusion, even among DFID staff members, about the differences between resilience/preparedness and the nexus, highlighting the need for greater clarity on these key terms, and specifically on where resilience sits within the broader nexus (see Section 3.2 and the definition of resilience in section 1.1). There is no common understanding of these terms between donors and agencies and so co-developing this clarity would be beneficial.

The UK’s engagement with the nexus has recently shifted to focus on protracted crises. An internal Protracted Crises Discussion Paper was written in 2017[9] to operationalise the Humanitarian Reform Policy to protracted crises. It recognises that, in protracted crises such as refugee situations, it is vital to address the drivers of crisis and longer-term livelihood needs from the outset, shifting the focus to “development where possible and humanitarian only where necessary”. As co-chair of the OECD’s International Network on Conflict and Fragility, the UK contributed in 2018 to developing the DAC recommendation on the HDP nexus, as well as driving policy changes internally to build collaboration, coherence and complementarity.

Figure 2 shows that the proportion of UK ODA as humanitarian assistance channelled to fragile states doubled in the decade to 2017 (from 16% in 2008 to 31.9% in 2017). This trend is reflected at the country level in Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen, where total volumes of humanitarian assistance increased steadily during the first five years of crisis response (Appendix 6). Trends differ slightly in Iraq and Syria, where volumes and proportions of ODA as humanitarian assistance fell between 2016 and 2017. For Nigeria, Iraq, Syria and Somalia, volumes of humanitarian assistance continued to be greater than developmental ODA (ODA minus humanitarian assistance) in 2017, although this is not the case in Nigeria where developmental ODA is significantly higher than humanitarian assistance. This may reflect the regional nature of the crisis in Nigeria, which has not affected developmental assistance elsewhere in the country.

While the internal Protracted Crises Discussion Paper has a wider focus on risk and crisis beyond humanitarian response, it is not an official policy with buy-in across government. The Humanitarian Reform Policy focuses more narrowly on humanitarian response mechanisms: while it makes some links to longer-term development, it does not cover broader crisis issues such as climate change and global health. Therefore, the current UK policy framework does not holistically articulate broader priorities on crisis, resilience and future risk to offer the necessary foundations for engaging on the nexus.

Explicit references to building synergies between HDP responses are made primarily in humanitarian policies and those developed by the Conflict, Humanitarian and Security (CHASE) department within DFID. This reflects the view, within DFID and internationally, that humanitarian personnel are primarily responsible for developing the nexus. It is important that objectives on collaboration, coherence and complementarity are built into broader aid strategies, including those focusing on poverty reduction, development and peace. To achieve this, political buy-in and a mandate from top leadership on the nexus will be vital. While there are examples of good practice in integrating a resilience/crisis lens into development guidance (e.g. the Education in Emergencies guidance and Economic Development Strategy), it is important to mainstream this approach across all sector strategies and guidance.

Suggestions for the UK government as a donor

  • The UK government could develop a holistic policy, going beyond narrow humanitarian response to encompass crisis, resilience and future risk.
  • The UK government could embed commitments to deliver on the nexus (resilience, preparedness, risk, peacebuilding and recovery) into broader aid and sector strategies and guidance. Political buy-in and leadership on this agenda will be critical.
  • The UK government could work collectively with other donors to identify the specific types of peacebuilding, stability and security activities which are relevant and appropriate to the nexus, and those that are not, as well as the types of humanitarian assistance in particular crisis contexts which should be ringfenced from work on the nexus to safeguard needs-based principled humanitarian assistance.
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Figure 1: The proportion of UK ODA in the form of humanitarian assistance (HA) and conflict, peace and security (CPS) activities, 2008–2017

Figure 1: The proportion of UK ODA in the form of humanitarian assistance (HA) and conflict, peace and security (CPS) activities, 2008–2017

The proportion of UK ODA in the form of humanitarian assistance (HA) and conflict, peace and security (CPS) activities, 2008–2017

Source: Development Initiatives based on Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Creditor Reporting System (CRS). Note: Gross disbursements to country recipients, regions and unspecified developing countries.

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Figure 2: The proportion of UK ODA in the form of humanitarian assistance (HA) and conflict, peace and security (CPS) activities to fragile and conflict-affected states (FCASs), 2008–2017

Figure 2: The proportion of UK ODA in the form of humanitarian assistance (HA) and conflict, peace and security (CPS) activities to fragile and conflict-affected states (FCASs), 2008–2017

The proportion of UK ODA in the form of humanitarian assistance (HA) and conflict, peace and security (CPS) activities to fragile and conflict-affected states (FCASs), 2008–2017

Source: Development Initiatives based on Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Creditor Reporting System (CRS). Note: Gross disbursements to country recipients, regions and unspecified developing countries.

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Figure 3: The proportion of UK ODA given as humanitarian assistance (HA) and to conflict, peace and security (CPS) activities to countries that are not fragile and conflict-affected states (non-FCASs), 2008–2017

Figure 3: The proportion of UK ODA given as humanitarian assistance (HA) and to conflict, peace and security (CPS) activities to countries that are not fragile and conflict-affected states (non-FCASs), 2008–2017

The proportion of UK ODA given as humanitarian assistance (HA) and to conflict, peace and security (CPS) activities to countries that are not fragile and conflict-affected states (non-FCASs), 2008–2017

Sources: Development Initiatives based on Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Creditor Reporting System (CRS), 2018 State of Fragility Report (OECD) and DFID's ODA 2015 budget spent in fragile states and regions. Notes: Non-FCAS recipients are all other recipients excluding the fragile states classified according to DFID's ODA 2015 budget spent in fragile states and regions.[10]

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Transforming policy into practice through strategy

Lessons: UK policies are predominantly top-level, with the key challenge being the absence of a mid-level policy framework and guidance for transforming policy into operational strategy at the country and regional levels. While the UK has a comprehensive set of tools and guidance notes on standards and programming, these do not comprehensively cover crisis, risk and resilience. To systematise approaches, it will be vital for donors to develop conceptual and operational guidance on the nexus – which sets out a common understanding of key concepts and definitions.

Policy priorities are implemented though country strategies setting operational plans for the UK’s aid allocation in a specific country. These are revised every four years in line with cross-government departmental spending reviews and Country Development Diagnostic assessments undertaken in each country where DFID has a presence (Section 3.1). Regional strategies are not systematically developed.

UK global policies are predominantly high-level, and so their practical application is a critical challenge faced by DFID staff. Interviewees agreed about the strength of the UK government in developing policy. However, they identified as a key challenge the absence of a systematic approach or framework for prioritising policy commitments or translating policy into strategy and subsequent programming at country and regional levels. Interviewees reported that DFID has tended to produce strategy documents that align to or repeat policy documents but are less detailed on how the policy will be delivered. A recent DFID operational model review process identified the sequencing and layering of strategies and prioritising between different policies as a key challenge resulting in disparate objectives and activities across programmes. This risks limiting staff accountability for delivering strategy and undermining the overall strategic impact of DFID’s work.

It is important that high-level policies and ministerial statements are linked with central, sector and country-level strategies through operational guidance and a mid-level policy framework to ensure a strategic drive providing the next level of granularity. DFID has a comprehensive set of standards and (often sector-focused) tools to guide programming decisions in the Smart Rules[11] (Section 3.2), including specific guidance on humanitarian programming and coherence between the centre and country offices. However, it does not, given the nascency of the ‘triple nexus’, comprehensively cover or draw upon learning as relevant to all policy priorities or provide operational guidance for transforming policy into practice at different levels concerning the nexus.

The development of standalone optional operational guidance on the nexus would help to address this, potentially as a tool within the Smart Rules. It is important though to strike a balance between providing the central guidance necessary to systematise approaches while at the same time avoiding being too prescriptive. Forcing a blueprint model could undermine the benefits the decentralised model offers in terms of enabling context-specific and flexible approaches.

Agreeing a common understanding of key nexus concepts and definitions will be prerequisite to developing this guidance and will be crucial for bringing disparate perspectives on the nexus across DFID together and dispelling and myths or misconceptions as necessary for progressing on this agenda. Without greater clarity on this, and what it means for DFID, staff members are unlikely to prioritise this issue in strategies. While some key concepts are discussed in the Resilience Approach Paper and in the internal Protracted Crisis Discussion Paper which can be built upon, they do not cover all relevant terms or have cross-organisational buy-in. Defining broader terms such as risk, vulnerability, fragility, resilience, and preparedness will be important here, as will organisation-wide dialogue and agreement around fundamental concepts (Section 3.2). An important aspect of this will be identifying the differing and overlapping departure points, end goals, priority groups and levels of engagement for HDP actors, from which ambitions around the nexus can be built.

How DFID allocates its budget internally (once funding is received from the Treasury)[12] illustrates strategic priorities and the extent to which policies are put into practice. However, the process for budget allocation is generally unknown among the staff members interviewed. Once teams have submitted bids for the required budget as part of the spending rounds, a committee of select senior personnel makes the allocation decisions using a formula based on present needs, aid effectiveness, future need and ability to self-finance.[13] The criteria used in budget allocation should also reflect issues of relevance to the nexus – including resilience, peacebuilding, crisis and risk.

Suggestions for the UK government as a donor

  • Develop a mid-level policy framework for translating top-level policy on aid, humanitarian assistance, peace and stability into practice, supporting thematic teams and country offices to choose between competing priorities. The function of the Strategy Unit could be expanded for this purpose.
  • CHASE could work with the Better Delivery department to establish a dialogue process for agreeing key concepts and terminologies on the nexus, incorporating the outcomes in operational guidance specifically focused on the nexus as a standalone Smart Rules tool. Embedding the nexus into existing thematic and sector guidance will also be crucial.
  • This new operational guidance could potentially cover:
    • nexus-related definitions and concepts for use within DFID/UK government
    • learning modules on fragility, resilience, peace, risk and crisis (Section 4.3)
    • learning and advice on potential mechanisms for understanding needs across the nexus and the interaction between drivers of crisis and longer-term vulnerability and conflict
    • learning and guidance on programming and financing approaches
    • advice on quantitative and qualitative performance indicators on resilience and peace and on the use of beneficiary feedback mechanisms in measuring progress against indicators
    • programme staffing considerations for transforming nexus policy into practice.

Notes

  • 4

    The UK uses its own list of fragile states, which differs from the OECD DAC list. The creation of the cross-departmental CSSF also reflects this shift in focus to fragile states.

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  • 10

    The significant increase in humanitarian assistance to non-fragile and conflict-affected states in 2013, compared to 2012, was driven by the increase of gross disbursements to Middle Eastern region (up US$184 million to US$203 million, a ninefold increase), South of Sahara region (up US$41 million to US$93 million, an increase of 78%) and the Philippines (US$44.9 million in 2013 compared to US$0.002 million in 2012).

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  • 11

    Smart Rules were initially developed in 2014 (and updated twice a year) by the Better Delivery Department as guidance for staff members across a range of areas relevant to delivering effective programming using a combination of 37 rules.

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