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Bringing us back to the larger questions

Why do we need a revised model for assessing fragility and what would it need to look like?

16-10-2015

Weijer, F. 2015. Bringing us back to the larger questions; why do we need a revised model for assessing fragility and what would it need to look like? ECDPM Talking Points blog. 16 October 2015

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This article originally appeared in the OECD’s Institutions and Stability blog in October 2015 


In an earlier blog I wrote about my discomfort around the indicators used in the proposed new model for assessing fragility. In hindsight I feel that this was the easy way out, as these are much easier to comment on than the larger questions surrounding this report. Now that a series of consultations are planned, I would like to take us back to these bigger questions. Do we need a revised model for assessing fragility, and what would it need to look like? 

With the adoption of the SDGs, and in particular Goal 16, we have a real opportunity in front of us. We can draw attention to different reasons why countries are prone to conflict and violence. We can draw attention to the responsibility of the world to prevent conflict rather than manage it after it has erupted. We can draw attention to the fact that global drivers of conflict are just as important – if not more important – than national capacities to manage conflict and violence. And, for those countries that are likely to remain dependent on development assistance, we can make this assistance more tailored and more effective. So how can we best harness this opportunity that is in front of us? And will this model help us do so?

It is indeed necessary to have a more nuanced understanding of what stands in the way of countries achieving the SDGs. Making these patterns of vulnerability more visible can help make the international community more accountable to them. Goal 16 and its targets are a politically negotiated outcome and from a technical perspective its dimensions and targets are not great. An improved model would be welcome.  

To me, the most important purpose of such a model would be that it expands the policy options to fight these vulnerabilities. Currently, the concept of fragility is still very much used in a development context, where the theory of change on how to address these vulnerabilities runs via development assistance. If we expand the concept we must also expand the policy options, and think about this more systemically.

Unfortunately this newly proposed model does not, in my view, take such a systemic perspective on conflict. It takes countries as its starting point, and only looks at their internal capacities. As such it perpetuates the mistake made in the New Deal; treating susceptibility to violence as an internal trait, rather than as something deeply influenced by external stressors. This proposed model will therefore not help us direct the responsibility of the international community to the global drivers of conflict. Which in my mind would be a real opportunity lost.

The OECD report – and the proposed model – seems to have the ambition to be more systemic, but can’t quite make it. Its focus is still very much on ODA and aid modalities as the main way to reduce vulnerability.

Perhaps this is understandable, considering that fragile states are likely to remain recipients of aid. Can the proposed model then help donor agencies allocate funds to countries where development assistance is most needed, and track the degree to which this happens?

The model expands the current definition of fragility – that hinges more on weak institutions – to include vulnerability to disaster and economic shocks. In effect, this will mean including a broader set of countries in the list, including MICs with high levels of violence and LDCs with a high vulnerability to disaster, like Kiribati. Using this model, more aid orphans will probably show up, although questions can be asked whether development assistance is indeed always the best way to address these vulnerabilities, in particular for MICs. It really depends on the theory of change one believes in on how to address these different vulnerabilities.

Although this is only one piece of the puzzle, the road to resilience to disaster will run to some degree via effective and accountable institutions. Which would be an argument to keep inclusive and effective institutions central. The basic theory of change – that the Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Goals (PSGs) are building blocks to reach the development goals – still holds up to a large extent.  To me, the most interesting fact in the 2015 report is that only 2% of funding went to security and 3% to justice, these are really shocking figures. Tracking expenditure to the PSGs – indeed a recommendation the report also makes – thus remains important.

If we wanted to have an expanded model to track resources to vulnerable countries I would recommend taking PSGs as a starting point, perhaps adding a sixth goal more specifically related to resilience to disaster. The indicators developed by the UN Statistical Commission could also be dovetailed into these. But we have to keep in mind that such a model will still only be a partial view on the vulnerability to conflict and violence, as it only focuses on national vulnerabilities and treats development assistance as the main policy option.

In my mind, what we really need is a systemic perspective on vulnerability and conflict that goes beyond aid. That focuses on both the national capacities to manage conflict and violence, and on the global and regional drivers of conflict, and on the interactions between them. I hope the consultations can discuss in more detail what such a model could look like.


This article originally appeared in the OECD’s Institutions and Stability blog in October 2015

The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of ECDPM

Image courtesy of Julien Harneis


See also see Frauke’s recent ECDPM blogs on the OECD framework on fragility: OECD’s ‘States of Fragility’ report: Some discomfort around the indicators‘ and Taking fragility seriously in financing the SDGs


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Security and ResilienceOther work to address conflict and crisisResponses to violent conflict and crisis in AfricaFragility