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  • Report
  • 5 December 2019

Donors at the triple nexus: lessons from the United Kingdom: Executive summary

Executive summary


To address the impact of crisis on poverty, risk and vulnerability and ensure that ‘no one is left behind’, building synergies between short-term humanitarian assistance and longer-term development and peacebuilding approaches is vital. Momentum behind this agenda has been renewed following the agreement of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) recommendation on the ‘triple’ humanitarian–development–peace (HDP) nexus in February 2019, which expands the earlier ‘dual’ humanitarian–development nexus to incorporate peace. Most donors are in the initial stages of transforming nexus-related policy into practice, and there is a need to generate learning on this agenda. Research presented here focuses on UK experiences on the triple nexus with the aim of drawing lessons for wider application.

The UK is regarded as a leader on this agenda, driving global policy discussions on the triple nexus and implementing innovative context-specific programming at the country level. At the headquarters level, the UK Department for International Development (DFID) is working strategically to identify ways to transform global commitments of relevance to the nexus into practice – through internal policy, practical approaches and staffing structures. While this is an iterative learning process, as it is for all donors, and there are areas for improvement, the scope and ambition for progress on this agenda is clear.

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Policy and strategy

Key finding: While the policy framework lays important foundations for approaching the nexus, expanding the focus beyond humanitarian assistance to cover broader crisis and risk will be critical, as will developing operational guidance to transform policy into strategy and to clarify concepts and terms.

The 2015 Aid Strategy signified a shift towards a greater focus on conflict and stability and established an overarching strategy for action in fragile states as the main frame for the UK’s engagement on the triple nexus. Complementarity between UK humanitarian and development policy priorities through a common focus on resilience is clear, as are efforts to integrate a peace lens into development programming as a core aspect of the development–peace dual nexus. However, progress on the humanitarian–peace dual nexus poses a greater challenge.

For the UK and other donors alike, this is partly because the addition of peace to the triple nexus is new and in early development but more fundamentally reflects tensions between political agendas around security and stabilisation and needs-based principled humanitarian aid. There is a demand for more thought within DFID and donors collectively about the types of peacebuilding, security and stability activities that are relevant and appropriate to the nexus, and those that are not, and about the limitations of the nexus concerning specific types of humanitarian activities and contexts.

The UK’s leadership on the nexus is the result of years of reflection and learning, with global leadership demonstrated on approaches to risk, resilience and preparedness. More recently, recognising the broader focus of the nexus beyond resilience, DFID has developed a strategic approach to protracted crises. However, this is not captured in UK official policy, highlighting the need to stretch the current policy framework beyond humanitarian response covering crisis and risk as a necessary foundation for engaging on the nexus. Explicit commitments on the nexus are primarily made in humanitarian policies, or those developed by the Conflict, Humanitarian and Security department (CHASE) within DFID. This highlights the importance of covering the nexus in broader aid and sector strategies in order to expand ownership on this agenda beyond humanitarian and conflict teams and programmes.

While the UK has comprehensive tools, guidance notes and standards on programming, these do not comprehensively cover crisis, risk, resilience and peace; there is a need for guidance on transforming policy into operational strategy at country and regional levels. Operational guidance on the nexus – potentially as a standalone tool within the Smart Rules – will be vital in setting out common understanding of key concepts and definitions, capturing learning and providing advice on programming and financing approaches, results, indicators and staffing. Striking a balance between providing the central guidance necessary to systematise approaches while at the same time avoiding being too prescriptive will be key. Forcing a blueprint model could undermine the benefits the decentralised model offers in terms of enabling context-specific and flexible approaches.

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Programme cycle

Key finding: Systematically embedding the nexus into programme design and quality assurance processes will be crucial.

Assessment Joined-up assessments which capture different aspects of the nexus are undertaken at country/regional levels through the Country Development Diagnostic (CDD) tool as a springboard for joint planning and programming.

Planning While guidance such as the Smart Rules is in place to support personnel in programme design, the nexus of risk, resilience and peace is not systematically embedded within the planning process. It will be crucial that planning and quality assurance demonstrate how the nexus has been considered, capturing this in operational guidance on the nexus, quality assurance checklists and the Business Case template.

Key finding: A strong portfolio of context-responsive programming on the nexus has emerged. Lessons, best practice and programming models now need to be captured and shared in order to systematise approaches.

Programming on the nexus is ahead of policy. DFID has developed a strong portfolio of programming on the nexus covering crisis, risk, resilience and peace. This falls into two distinct (though equally important) categories. First, ‘sequential’ programming takes a linear approach to development, humanitarian and peacebuilding programming in pre-, active- and post-crisis phases, and is used primarily in disaster contexts. Second, ‘simultaneous’ programming delivers all aspects of the nexus in the same place at the same time (the ‘dual objective’ in DFID). Simultaneous programming is at an earlier phase of conception and its effective delivery will require further thought and trial. Through risk- and shock-responsive programming, DFID demonstrates greater expertise in flexing when countries move into a crisis than when transitioning into recovery once a crisis subsides. This reflects the donor-wide challenge of building synergies with the peace component of the nexus in post-crisis contexts, but also the need to strengthen programming tools for exiting crisis into recovery and peacebuilding.

DFID’s programming approaches documented in this report have developed organically in response to contextual opportunities and needs, and the individual actions of staff members, rather than following an official model or being driven from top-level policy. Developing a menu of programming options on the nexus would help to systematise the nexus in the programme design phase. This could be done by better capturing and sharing lessons from existing approaches and developing more nuanced mechanisms for understanding needs and the interaction of crisis and vulnerability drivers across the nexus, and including this in operational guidance on the nexus.

Key finding: While strong contingency financing mechanisms are in place, it will be important to expand these beyond humanitarian to development and peacebuilding programmes.

Financing DFID’s decentralised model and fungible funding types are key strengths in enabling scale changes of humanitarian, development and peacebuilding assistance in response to crisis. The Internal Risk Facility (IRF) and Crisis Reserve are important tools enabling country offices to flex in response to contextual changes. However, mechanisms tend to support the scale-up of crisis preparedness and programming rather than development and peacebuilding programmes. To strengthen the uptake of risk and flexible financing in longer-term livelihood and peace programmes, there is a pressing need for institutional guidance on use of the IRF as part of a broader tool on flexible finance. While the Crisis Reserve plays a key role in responding to unforeseen crisis, there is scope to strengthen preventive and anticipatory financing, potentially as either a sub-window within the Crisis Reserve or a separate mechanism.

A separate fund or facility focusing on one ‘leg’ of the nexus can clearly incentivise risk-informed and targeted programming, while also risking the siloing of nexus approaches without systematic building of complementarity. There are many opportunities for the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) and DFID to build upon existing efforts to further systematise a complementary approach. Where both CSSF and DFID are present in a country, there is scope to pursue joined-up planning and programming more actively both in London and in country. The CSSF could utilise and develop its potential for longer-term programming and DFID could reinvigorate its role in the design and delivery of longer-term strategies (including those that transition from the CSSF to DFID) through its participation in the cross-government boards that steer CSSF activities. Regular dialogue and engagement between DFID’s programme SROs and CSSF delivery teams, both in London and in country, would help to enable this.

Key finding: A central mechanism for organisational learning and information-sharing is needed.

Learning, monitoring and evaluation Learning from DFID’s experience on the nexus is not systematically shared across the organisation, although this is crucial when tackling a new policy agenda such as the triple nexus, which requires experimentation and improvements over time. In the absence of formal learning mechanisms, central policy teams are filling the gap by establishing communities of practice, developing guidance for technical support to country offices on nexus-related issues, and capturing and sharing learning, although this is not systematic. Information on country/regional programme objectives, strategies and indicators is not centrally accessible in a user-friendly format. Establishing a central mechanism for organisational learning and information-sharing would enable the building of complementarity between programmes and would allow teams to identify where connections can be made.

Key finding: Identifying holistic indicators on risk, resilience and peace, and establishing beneficiary feedback mechanisms in programme design, will be vital.

To strengthen accountability on the nexus, it is also vital that qualitative and quantitative holistic indicators on risk, resilience and peace are incorporated in programme design and that beneficiary feedback mechanisms are established to capture the perspectives of affected populations and measure progress against agreed indicators. Supporting teams with a menu of potential outcome-level indicators for measuring progress in these areas, and capturing this in the suggested operational guidance on the nexus, will be important, as will providing guidance on how to connect outcome-level indicators with beneficiary feedback mechanisms. Flexible and adaptive programming is vital to the nexus by enabling iterative learning and flex in response to changing context and needs. The sustained efforts of the Better Delivery Department to test more flexible approaches to results management will be crucial.

Key finding: Working strategically with partners based on their comparative advantage will require co-developing expectations and embedding these into partner performance indicators and reviews.

Partnerships can play a strategic role in the UK’s operationalisation of the nexus. DFID could jointly agree nexus-related expectations with NGO and multilateral partners and embed these into partnership agreements. Partners should be selected for having comparative advantage, including local knowledge to inform nexus approaches, rather than for previous connections or being lower risk. While multilateral partners are committed to the nexus through international commitments, this would encourage greater progress. It will also be important to integrate nexus-related capacities of partners into future reviews, such as the Multilateral Aid Review. Moving towards harmonised NGO reporting requirements and clearly communicating results-related expectations with NGO partners in escalating crisis would enable them to better adapt and flex. A joined-up approach between country and central teams to engaging with multilateral and NGO partners will also be vital. Testing approaches and capturing learning for working effectively with national and local authorities is crucial from a nexus perspective, given the importance of linking short-term assistance with national development.

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Organisational structures, systems and leadership

Key finding: Strengthening staff expertise on risk, resilience and peace will be vital – through trainings and internal nexus-related networks mandated from leadership. Systematising emerging staffing models, such as the use of country-level multi-disciplinary teams will be important, as will increasing the number of personnel with relevant expertise to provide technical support.

DFID’s decentralised structure provides a strong foundation for working practically on the nexus. To realise this potential in full, it will be crucial to: build coherence between the centre and country offices on peace and resilience; develop strategies and structures for stronger regional engagement; and expand and formalise internal networks for providing country offices with technical support on all aspects of the nexus and in protracted crises with a mandate from leadership.

DFID is increasingly using multi-disciplinary teams in crisis contexts, to ensure the right mix of expertise in the right place, although this is not yet standard practice. It is vital that the right blend of expertise is assembled from the outset, not only in active crisis contexts but also in pre- and post-crisis contexts. Guidance on the formation of effective multi-disciplinary teams will be important, as will training for personnel working on different aspects of the nexus on risk, resilience and peace while recognising the continued need for technical expertise and support from the centre. Efforts to cross-pollinate expertise areas in staffing structures are supporting greater collaboration, coherence and complementarity, and could be better standardised. It will also be necessary to increase the number of headquarters- and country-level staff members with expertise in these areas to provide support in integrating a nexus lens across programmes. Expanding the rule that Advisers can use a proportion of their time on other projects could be rolled out more strategically to cover all staff members, as well as joint and cross-cadre working.

Key finding: Strong leadership is crucial for driving staff incentives on the nexus and a cultural shift which expands the ownership of this agenda to development colleagues.

While systems matter, so do the attitudes and behaviours of staff members. Incentivising personnel to work flexibly, collaboratively and coherently, and to identify and pursue opportunities for complementarity in crisis contexts requires the establishment of a reward system embedded in performance management and job descriptions. Most importantly, it also requires an official steer from leadership and senior management.