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Key questions and considerations for donors at the triple nexus: lessons from UK and Sweden: Chapter 2

Policy frameworks

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Top-level policy and strategy framework

Common observations

Donors’ overarching visions for their international official development assistance (ODA) help to set the rationale, intent and broad parameters for coherence and connections between humanitarian, development, peacebuilding and political dialogue in crisis contexts. As multi-year framework documents, these tend to pre-date the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee (OECD DAC) recommendation, but many of its enduring themes, particularly those on risk and resilience, are reflected within both Sweden and the UK’s high-level strategies.

Both donors have been actively engaging in nexus discussions on the global stage, most recently with the DAC in developing the triple nexus recommendation, with the UK acting as co-chair of the International Network on Conflict and Fragility (INCAF) in the negotiations leading up to the recommendation. Engagement with two strategic issues – resilience and fragility – have laid the foundations for their engagement. Sweden and the UK were both early, proactive and committed champions of resilience approaches as a central component of the humanitarian-development dual nexus.[1] Both donors have also increased their strategic focus on – and funding for – engaging in fragile contexts, and on addressing conflict and instability as a prerequisite for sustainable development, providing a clear rationale for making the connections between humanitarian, development and peacebuilding efforts.

Building synergies with the peace aspect of the nexus poses challenges for donors and implementing agencies alike, especially concerning the humanitarian-peace dual nexus. More progress is noted in the development-peace dual nexus through, for example, efforts to integrate a peace lens into development programming. The existence of these challenges not only results from commitments on the triple nexus being very new and less developed but also reflects tensions between political agendas around security and stabilisation and needs-based principled humanitarian assistance. There is a demand for more thought about the types of peacebuilding or security activities that are relevant and appropriate to the nexus, and those that are not, as well as the limitations of the nexus concerning humanitarian assistance given the risk of alignment and the challenge of extending focus beyond addressing severe needs in the context of finite resources.

Notable practice

Both Sweden’s Policy Framework (2016) and the UK’s Aid Strategy (2015) lay the foundation for the triple nexus by reflecting the “leave no one behind” imperative of Agenda 2030. Sweden’s Policy Framework sets out the aim of ODA as creating “preconditions for better living conditions for people living in poverty and under oppression”,[2] and the UK Aid Strategy states that the UK “will lead the world in implementing the Leave No One Behind Promise and […] will prioritise work that targets the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, the most excluded, those caught in crises and those most at risk of violence and discrimination”.[3]

While the respective roles of humanitarian, development and peace support are indicated in both donors’ ODA policy frameworks, they also demand complementarity and interplay between them as a minimum and aim to promote the role of development actors in building resilience and responding to risk. Sweden’s overarching ODA policy framework sets out the ambition of “increasing the resilience of societies and opportunities of people, and thus reducing the risk of humanitarian crises and preventing protracted crises”.[4] The UK’s Aid Strategy (2015) and its Humanitarian Reform Policy (2017) focus on resilience, with the latter stating the intention 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”.[5] Building on this, the UK Department for International Development (DFID) has developed a focus on protracted crises, recognising the need to address the risks and drivers of crisis and longer-term livelihood needs, as well as providing humanitarian response.[6] Cementing this broader focus on crisis and risk that extends beyond humanitarian assistance within official policy would strengthen uptake further.

In terms of the connection with peace, the current Operational Plan formulated by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) connects to the Policy Framework and sets the explicit objective of developing “methods, ways of working and routines that enable an effective interplay between humanitarian assistance and long-term development, including peacebuilding contributions,” although, as the next section explores, progress towards realising this objective is, so far, patchy.[7] The UK Aid Strategy (2015) shifted the agenda towards focusing on conflict and stabilisation and integrating a peace lens into development programming. The policy framework could go further to explicitly cover ambitions for building the complementarity of peace work with humanitarian assistance, in a way that safeguards humanitarian principles.

Key questions and considerations for donors

  1. The top-level policy frameworks of both donors pre-date the DAC recommendation. As we shall see in a later section, a top-level policy steer that is broadly conducive and not contradictory to working at the nexus is sufficient for action. Do donors now need to formally write the triple nexus into top-level policy, in order to send a stronger statement of intent? If so, this must be at the level of overall ODA policy, to ensure ownership is not seen to rest solely in the humanitarian domain.
  2. National interest is an evitable part – either implicit (in the case of Sweden) or explicit (in the case of the UK) – of the rationale for directing development and peacebuilding and stability support. How can policy frameworks help to reconcile this with risk-informed and needs-based prioritisation?
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Translation of policy into operational strategy

Translation of policy into operational strategy

Common observations

The nexus can be both a daunting and an abstract concept for many donor staff, and application and ownership of it can be patchy between and within ministries and departments. For joined-up approaches to become routine practice, top-level steers and commitments need to be translated into operational strategy and guidance. This ‘missing middle’ between top-level policy and context-specific practice was evident in both donors, and filling it is a work in progress. The process of doing so is an opportunity to build common understanding between the three ‘legs’ of the nexus (humanitarian, development and peace) and constructively confront any problematic differences in points of departure. Conceptual clarity is a prerequisite for effective operational guidance.

Notable practice

Both donors have recognised the need for and are in the process of conceptualising and/or creating common guidance and tools for staff across departments to understand what the triple nexus means in practice and to delineate what the expectations and options are for their agencies. Developing and formalising these tools will need to involve generating buy-in for them across the relevant ministries and departments, beyond the staff who have been traditionally working on crisis prevention and response, and consulting and communicating with implementing partners in the process. Striking a balance between providing the necessary central guidance to systematise approaches while continuing to encourage country teams to respond flexibly to the context will be key.

Country-specific or regional strategy processes also offer critical opportunities for translating broad ODA objectives into practice for both donors. DFID develops joined-up country strategies covering all aspects of the nexus, while Sweden’s humanitarian strategies are ring-fenced from country strategies, as a means of preserving humanitarian principles. Both approaches can be compatible with realising nexus commitments – building in ways to systematically make connections with development and peace, both in process and content. For example, in Sweden’s ring-fenced model, there is a dedicated chapter on development connections in each humanitarian plan, with cross-departmental discussions built into the process. At the same time, the country strategies for development assistance are starting to integrate crisis-risk considerations, though this could be made more regular, routine and consistent.

DFID uses a unique ‘Business Case’ model which encourages a comprehensive organisational approach to programme design and planning. The current Business Case template includes sections on risk and conflict sensitivity, though there is scope to broaden this focus and cover the full spectrum of nexus-related issues in programme planning. As a first step towards this, the Conflict, Humanitarian and Security Department (CHASE) within DFID has recently developed a programme design and business case checklist which prompts teams to consider approaches for joined-up assessments, programming and flexible funding.

Key questions and considerations for donors

  1. Many donors already have a ‘forest’ of operational guidelines and tools, from gender to conflict sensitivity and accountability. As they work to fill the ‘missing middle’ of operational guidance on the nexus, they face the practical question of how to do so in a way that makes sense of and is coherent with existing guidelines and tools, rather than adding to or getting lost among them. This may require either the consolidation or rethink of existing tools and guidance, or the production of a new set.
  2. Resilience approaches have been critical in laying the groundwork and imperative to work at the nexus. There is now a need for clarity on the distinction between resilience and the broader triple nexus to avoid confusion among staff and suspicion that it is just a repackaging (see Section 1 for definition of resilience). There is no commonly held distinction of these terms between donors and agencies and so co-developing this clarity would be beneficial.

Notes