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  • Report
  • 11 December 2019

Key questions and considerations for donors at the triple nexus: lessons from UK and Sweden: Chapter 3

Programme and allocation cycle

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Assessments and analysis

Common observations

Common action must be based on a common understanding of what the problem is: working at the nexus demands assessments and analysis which take account of the full set of risks, needs, vulnerabilities, coping capacities and contextual factors. This can be in the form of complementary or joint analysis exercises. Recent in-country research on collective international efforts to work at the nexus found that in general, there was not enough robust joint analysis of risks, systems and root causes. This meant that risks and needs might be “under-recognised and under-prioritised”.[1]

Notable practice

Sweden and the UK use different constellations of assessment methods to diagnose situations and requirements, with different degrees of join-up. Both donors undertake country assessments every four years using standardised multi-dimensional or disciplinary methodologies to inform country strategies.[2]

Sweden’s multi-dimensional poverty analysis (MPDA) approach forms the basis of its overarching analytical approach for its country development plans. It defines multi-dimensional poverty as something that “deprives people of the freedom to decide over and shape their own lives [...] Lack of power and choice and lack of material resources form the essence of poverty”.[3] A recent update of the definition explicitly incorporates risk and vulnerability and adds human security as a fourth dimension of poverty, an important first step to system-conscious, risk-informed analysis which now needs to be routinely and fully applied and regularly revisited in the four-year period. As explained above, humanitarian analysis is a separate annual process based on comparable cross-country metrics of need, but one which involves, and should inform, country teams’ understanding of and response to the changing context.

The UK Department for International Development (DFID) brings comprehensive analysis of seven different areas together under a single tool.[4] Country Development Diagnostics provides a solid shared analysis. The ‘Business Case’ process requires consideration of all dimensions of the diagnostics. Country assessments are updated regularly during the four-year period and monthly and quarterly humanitarian meetings review allocations in light of internal and external analysis on changing needs and vulnerability. For both donors, ensuring that the perspectives of affected populations feed into programme design, monitoring and evaluation is crucial, through, for example, the establishment of beneficiary feedback mechanisms from the outset.

Key questions and considerations for donors

  1. How can donors ensure that being risk- and resilience-informed is central, rather than peripheral, to development analyses and therefore to programming plans?
  2. Frequency and synchronicity of analysis matter in high-risk contexts. Development analyses tend to be on a four-year cycle but humanitarian analyses for some donors are annually and regularly reviewed, as situations change fast. Development analysis timeframes therefore need to embed opportunities for the frequent and ongoing analysis that is necessary in volatile situations.
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Programming approaches

Common observations

The nexus is better understood in practice than in concept. Other case studies of system-wide coordination and implementation have found that practical action at the programme level made more sense than policy definition at the headquarters level[5] – perhaps unsurprisingly so, for something that must be context-specific.

In Sweden and the UK, it also appeared to be true: bottom-up collaborative solutions focusing on context-specific problems were outpacing the development of systems and protocols. In both cases, although practical examples fit into a broad set of different programming types, there is no top-down blueprint. Instead, approaches are rightly developed according to the specific situations and opportunities.

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Box 2

Sequential and simultaneous programming

For the purpose of this study series, DI uses the following definitions.

Sequential programming is the delivery of humanitarian, development and peacebuilding responses in sequence, passing on the baton as the context moves into and out of crisis. This includes transitional funding where development and peacebuilding investments allow humanitarian assistance to transition out.

Simultaneous programming is the delivery of humanitarian, development and peace programmes at the same time in the same context. This can involve closely joined programmes and more parallel, complementary approaches. It includes preventative approaches where development and peacebuilding investments address the risk of crisis as well as resilience approaches in situations of chronic crisis.

Notable practice

Sequential approaches are most evident in disaster contexts, where points for handover are perhaps easier defined than in conflict contexts. DFID has several tools and programmes which support both scaling up in development contexts to meet emerging crisis needs[6] and ensuring that development programmes can be shock-responsive and adapt nutrition and social protection programming. Sweden’s recent response to Cyclone Idai in Mozambique, which sought at the very outset to agree a phased approach to long-term development, might also provide a model for transitional planning in rapid-onset disasters.

Simultaneous approaches are relevant in both disaster and conflict contexts and include continuing humanitarian response at the same time as supporting peace dividends; investing in longer-term livelihoods approaches and enhancing social protection; investing in prevention through resilience, preparedness and integrating a peace lens into development programming to address crisis risk. Yemen is an example of a situation where both donors are exploring simultaneous programming, despite the highly constrained environment. For DFID, this takes the form of looking at how to align social assistance and humanitarian cash. For Sweden, it is about finding ways to support demonstrable peace dividends in the critical window following the peace agreement.

Key questions and considerations for donors

  1. Given the proliferation of practical examples, donors now need to focus on learning from them and sharing that learning internally and externally. Experience seems to be held within country or programme teams and there is a lack of basic systems for documenting these, let alone conducting rigorous learning and sharing. This is an obvious priority for both and applies to all donors.
  2. Based on this learning, how can donors develop a practical menu of programming options in different types of situation while maintaining context-responsive and tailored innovation without creating a restrictive blueprint?
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Funding models and instruments

Common observations

A high degree of fungibility combined with delegated authority seems to be more important than creating specific funds or mechanisms to work at the nexus. This creates the scope for country teams and implementing partners to respond to changing situations and risk profiles and to be supported to trial new approaches in difficult settings. Specific pots and facilities focusing on one aspect of the nexus can also clearly incentivise risk-informed programming and targeted interventions but have the potential to create siloes unless a systematised approach to building complementary is taken. For both donors, funding for peacebuilding activities constitutes a small proportion of official development assistance (ODA) (4.2% for Sweden and 5.1% for the UK in 2017). This raises the question of whether a greater proportion of ODA should be allocated to peacebuilding activities in order to deliver on the peace aspect of the triple nexus at scale and truly address the underlying causes of crisis.

For effective delivery of the nexus agenda, development programmes need inbuilt mechanisms enabling them to scale up and down in response to crisis. However, specific contingency mechanisms tend to focus on scale-up of crisis preparedness and response programming, rather than scale-up of development or peace approaches. Holding development contingency funds is discretionary for country teams and there are countervailing pressures to ensure that funds are fully allocated. While central contingency financing mechanisms are vital for responding to rapid-onset humanitarian needs, it is equally important to expand the scope of reserve funding – whether as a separate or sub-funding window – to address anticipatory and preventative activities or respond early to long-term needs in crises.

Both donors have focused their efforts primarily on grant-based funding. Innovative and blended instruments are a much smaller part of the portfolio in crisis contexts and include support for insurance and guarantee-based models.

Notable practice

Both Sweden and the UK have a high degree of inbuilt flexibility and decentralised decision-making in their development (and for the UK, humanitarian) funds. This has enabled country teams to direct funds to respond to the risks, longer-term causes and consequences of crises.

For Sweden, examples of country teams using this decentralised flexibility include using development assistance both to support the humanitarian pooled fund in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and to scale-up sustainable responses for Rohingya refugees and host communities in Bangladesh. At the same time, at headquarters level, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) has recently created a small resilience fund within its humanitarian budget (approximately 6% of the total budget) to ring-fence funding for discrete projects which did not quite fit the severe humanitarian needs profile, but which development programmes were not yet able to pick up, or in places where there was no development funding, such as parts of the Sahel. However, this fund is clearly a limited stopgap.

Decision-making on allocation within country budgets is also highly decentralised in both donors. DFID country directors have within their four-year budgets the flexibility and the option to move funds around in response to contextual changes, apply for access to underspend from other programmes and to access contingency funding through an Internal Risk Facility embedded into programme design and/or a central Crisis Reserve fund. DFID’s Internal Risk Facility allows for pre-authorised scale-up to be built into programming budgets and partner agreements, though it has primarily been used in humanitarian programmes, such as the 2017 drought response in Somalia, and not exploited as an option for development programmes. In both donors, stronger organisational tools and guidance on use of flexible development funding to address crises would help broaden use of contingency funds beyond humanitarian programmes.

Key questions and considerations for donors

  1. Most contingency financing mechanisms enable the scale-up of humanitarian programmes and focus on immediate response, so what can be done to broaden the uptake of similar mechanisms in development/peacebuilding funding to support a more anticipatory, adaptive and flexible response?
  2. Making the most of flexibility and decentralisation is largely discretionary for country teams – how can this be a systematic consideration, accompanied by common clarity of what opportunities and mechanisms are available?
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Common observations

Donors fund others to implement their strategies, so which partners they choose to support – and how they work with them – is central to putting nexus commitments into practice. State authorities, multilateral agencies and international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) each need to be supported to bring their comparative advantages to bear to reduce risks and find lasting solutions. Although state authorities play a crucial role in this, in fragile contexts – for several reasons, including reputational and fiduciary risks and where states are parties to conflict – donors tend to channel less funding via the state. Instead, multilateral organisations, primarily UN agencies, receive the large part of funding but could be better incentivised and supported to collaborate within themselves and with each other. Sharing clear expectations and co-learning with them and with non-governmental organisation (NGO) partners, as well as supporting their staffing capacities on the nexus, would help to advance implementation of nexus commitments.

Notable practice

Both donors have track records in engaging partners to develop new policy applications and pilot innovative new programme approaches. Sida is actively promoting discussion and encouraging action on the nexus with its NGO partners, including through partnership fora specifically on the subject of the nexus. Programming at the nexus is specifically detailed in the Humanitarian Unit’s new NGO guidelines,[7] which among other cross-cutting requirements, asks that organisations set out and report how they will “do no harm” in terms of conflict sensitivity and how they will work to bridge the humanitarian-development divide and complement its humanitarian response with longer-term development interventions. There is also a focus on sustainability (addressing root causes of vulnerabilities) and on exit strategies (a requirement for NGOs applying for multi-year support). However, there is still a need for routine and joined-up communication of nexus-related expectations of all recipients of core and programme funding, beyond humanitarian and – from the partners’ perspective – clarity of what support they can expect in this regard.

DFID is at an early stage of thinking through how multilateral and NGO partnerships can strategically align with commitments on the nexus. The SMART Rules Partnership Principles recognise the importance of ensuring that partners contribute to peace and security and cover sustainability issues. There is, however, scope to expand these or new partnership guidelines to more broadly cover the role of partners in risk, flexible and adaptive programming, resilience, preparedness, conflict sensitivity and peacebuilding and to promote coherence, collaboration and complementarity across humanitarian development and peace programmes in-house and with partners.

Key questions and considerations for donors

  1. Flexible funding is key to allowing partners the space to iterate and innovate, but at the same time there needs to be clear requirements and accountability to ensure that partners will make connections within and between themselves. How can this be built into contracts without restricting partners or adding to reporting burdens?
  2. Supporting and incentivising multilaterals (UN agencies) to work collaboratively within and between themselves across humanitarian, development and peace programmes will require concerted efforts, including linking core and country/programme-specific funding. Can donors work together as a collective at the global level and in-country to achieve this?
  3. How can donors expand their repertoire for working with local and national state authorities wherever possible, supporting them to effect transformative change as well as being technical partners, while being conscious of potential tensions with humanitarian and peace objectives?
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Monitoring, learning and evaluation

Common observations

All donors and agencies are on a nexus learning curve. Central systems for capturing and sharing learning are vital so that ad hoc initiatives and practice can inform wider approaches. Internally, within and between donors’ relevant government ministries, mapping who is doing what where – including data on funding flows – would enable connections to be routinely made. Learning from quality evidence which integrates beneficiary feedback also needs to systematically feed back into practice, with donors supporting iterative and adaptive programming over appropriately long timeframes.

The question of qualitative and quantitative indicators for evaluating success remains challenging at the implementation level, with agencies in-country struggling to define collective outcomes that are both broad enough to encompass multiple dimensions, but detailed and realistic enough for accountability. So far, this does not appear to have been a major focus of discussion within these two donors, although DFID is aware of this challenge and considering options for developing a menu of holistic outcome-level indicators as well as further exploring how beneficiary feedback can inform and link with efforts to measure progress against these indicators.

Notable practice

Both donors are invested in developing their thinking and learning. Sweden has undertaken two recent evaluations on its progress in making connections between humanitarian and development – one internal, conducted by Sida, and the other external, conducted by the Swedish National Audit Office. Both were indicative of and revealed a high degree of commitment to progress, the picture of which was mixed. DFID has established internal networks and developed guidance to share learning on nexus-related issues between cadres or policy expertise areas providing country-level staff with technical support.

DFID and Sida are both exploring ways to support adaptive programming, though so far, their approaches are iterative and experimental and far from becoming standard practice. Sida is adopting a new learning-based adaptive approach to results-based management, which focuses on long-term sustainable results and encourages real-time changes. Pilots for adaptive programming and budgeting under its Africa Department intend to provide wider learning.[8] DFID has developed adaptive programming tools and its Better Delivery department is investigating flexible alternatives to log frames used in results frameworks.

Iterative learning and meaningful monitoring require resources from both partners and donor offices. Unearmarked and flexible support to agencies can help, but in the context of wider funding scarcity, this is often in competition with programming needs. Sida supports some systems-level learning through its ‘methods support’ budget line and at the programme level, has built this into some agreements: INGO support under its strategy for sustainable peace includes humanitarian mediation programmes in the Central African Republic, DRC and Mali, which explicitly includes a learning component on the humanitarian-peace nexus, a model which could potentially be replicated as an alternative to relying on unearmarked funds or programme overheads to fund learning. DFID has similarly embedded learning mechanisms at the country programme level. In Nigeria, for example, an internal ‘education and emergency learning lab’ has been established to facilitate designing education programmes in conflict-affected areas.

Key questions and considerations for donors

  1. To make connections and track progress, donors need to develop internal information management systems that work within their own existing structures. But might there be common approaches that donors can share?
  2. How can donors constructively engage in the collective outcome discussions in-country and adapt and adopt these for their own common results frameworks? How else might they share learning on developing outcome-level indicators on resilience, peace and inclusion?


  • 4
    This includes assessment modules on conflict, resilience and service delivery, with optional modules on fragility, humanitarian, inclusion, governance and human development, including risk.
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