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  • Report
  • 11 December 2019

Key questions and considerations for donors at the triple nexus: lessons from UK and Sweden: Chapter 1



Crises are the expression of underlying and ongoing problems. Reducing the incidences, severity and impacts of crises demands a concerted, multi-faceted approach: working at the ‘nexus’ between emergency response and longer-term approaches to reduce peoples’ vulnerabilities and risks, including poverty and insecurity.

This has been long understood and is reflected in the commitments of the Sustainable Development Goals to “leave no one behind”. It has gained renewed focus as a policy agenda since the 2016 Agenda for Humanity called for humanitarian and development actors to work together to achieve ‘Collective Outcomes’ for people.[1] This was followed by the creation of a United Nations Joint Steering Committee to pilot a ”New Way of Working”: collaborative, multi-year approaches drawing on the comparative strengths of multiple actors.[2] Building on this, in February 2019, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee (OECD DAC) published its recommendation on the ‘humanitarian-development-peace nexus’,[3] adding peace to the previously dual nexus to create the so-called ‘triple nexus’. This provides a set of working principles for DAC members and a common reference point for all relevant organisations (Box 1).

Financing is crucial to realising all these commitments – not just to provide funding for interventions, but to enable and incentivise collaborative and coherent working. Bilateral government donors have a central role to play in supporting, shaping and catalysing system-wide and context-specific coordination and action. However, for many donors, funding and financing approaches to the nexus are still catching up with the policy agenda. Sharing learning both within and between donors, and including their partners in this, will make this process more efficient and effective.

All donors face similar questions at strategic, principle and practical levels, situated in the political context of their official development assistance (ODA) agendas. Strategically, what scale of ambition should they aim for in the spectrum from complementarity to coherence; to what extent is the focus on system transformation as well as internal change? In terms of principles, how do they maintain neutral and impartial humanitarian action while pursuing peace and development priorities? Practically, how can they balance top-down approaches with contextually tailored initiatives? Ultimately, they all face the same central challenges: what is possible within their structures and resources and what works for affected people?

This report is part of a series of studies intended to share emerging lessons and approaches as donors evolve their application of their nexus commitments. Drawing on the findings of two reports which look in detail at Sweden and the UK’s respective approaches, it draws out key lessons, examples and questions of wider relevance to other donors and agencies.[4] It examines findings under three areas of donor operation: the policy frameworks that guide their work; the programme and allocation cycle through which it is implemented; and the organisational structures and systems that enable it. It is clear that just as there can be no template for putting the nexus into practice in-country, nor can there be a single model for donors, whose political contexts, architecture and resources vary widely. The intention of this series is therefore to shed light and provide insights from several different donors – starting with Sweden and the UK – in order to stimulate and inform open dialogue and considered action.

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Box 1

A note on terminology

This paper uses ‘nexus’ or ‘triple nexus’ as short-hand terms to refer to the connections between humanitarian, development and peacebuilding approaches. It aligns with the definition in the OECD DAC recommendation:[5]

‘Nexus approach’ refers to the aim of strengthening collaboration, coherence and complementarity. The approach seeks to capitalize on the comparative advantages of each pillar – to the extent of their relevance in the specific context – in order to reduce overall vulnerability and the number of unmet needs, strengthen risk management capacities and address root causes of conflict.

Achieving collaboration, coherence and complementarity means quite different things to different actors. We understand the three ambitions to sit on a spectrum from complementarity to coherence, with complementarity being the minimum requirement for approaching the nexus. At the higher end of the spectrum, the nexus can fundamentally challenge existing divisions between humanitarian, development and peace systems, encouraging stronger coherence and working towards shared outcomes. The three pillars are not exclusive or fixed – donors and agencies may need to employ and move between them at different times and in different contexts. We also recognise that there are three dual nexuses within the triple nexus – the well-established humanitarian-development nexus as well as the development-peace and humanitarian-peace nexuses.

We are clear that working ‘at the nexus’ to make these connections is not an end in itself, but a means to addressing and reducing people’s unmet needs, risks and vulnerabilities, increasing their resilience, addressing the root causes of conflict and building peace. However, as noted in recent research on financing the nexus at the country level, the scope and ambitions of the nexus are not yet clear.[6] Further clarification is required as to whether the ambitions of the nexus are to work on technical issues within humanitarian and development programming of limited scale and impact or to address more fundamental challenges in terms of engaging with the political economy.


  • 2
    As yet, there is no international consensus on the definition of ‘collective outcomes’. For the purpose of this research and drawing upon the ‘key elements’ articulated by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Task Team on the Humanitarian-Development Nexus, a ‘collective outcome’ is understood to refer to a jointly envisioned outcome which has the aim of addressing vulnerabilities and risks and requires the combined efforts of humanitarian, development and peace actors, among others.
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