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  • Report
  • 11 December 2019

Key questions and considerations for donors at the triple nexus: lessons from UK and Sweden: Chapter 4

Organisational structures and systems

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Structures, leadership and staffing

Common lessons

Sweden and the UK are quite different sized donors, with an annual official development assistance (ODA) spend of US$5.8bn and US$19.4bn, respectively, in 2018,[1] and different administrative scales and structures to manage this. The various departmental and agency divisions within the two donors do not present insurmountable obstacles to a joined-up approach but do demand regular communication and routine co-working at all levels.

There is a need for direction from the most senior levels, reflected in official policy, that ensures that working at the nexus is an agency/ministry-wide expectation and priority rather than the domain of one leg or department. At the same time, much rests on in-country leadership to spot and respond to changing risk profiles and opportunities and to ‘dare’ to forge new connections. Engaged country leadership is also necessary for both donors to support and influence other parts of the international system. Donors cannot shift the centre of funding gravity or the incentives for change on their own.

Systems only go so far and having terms of reference and incentives in the right places as well as staff with the right skills is key. This needs to be integrated into recruitment, placement and performance management. In-country presence covering all aspects of the nexus in the form of multidisciplinary teams (UK) or nexus experts (Sweden) with technical support from the centre is crucial. A lack of in-country presence or treating the nexus as an optional ‘add-on’ results in missed opportunities.

Notable practice

Within the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), there has recently been a clear steer from the highest levels of management that advancing the triple nexus is a collective responsibility – the directors of all departments have set this out as a joint priority for Sida, in keeping with the Policy Framework and the DAC recommendation. At the same time, they have mandated and resourced a specific cross-departmental and cross-specialism ‘nexus working group’ within Sida.

Within DFID, cross-team technical communities of practice on issues of relevance to the nexus (for example, resilience and protracted crises) and changes to staffing structures are also helping to forge connections. Emerging changes to the organigram are helping to support greater collaboration across humanitarian and development departments. For example, placing a Conflict Advisor within the International Financial Institutions Department (IFID) is helping to build synergies and strengthen DFID’s work in the private sector in fragile and crisis contexts outside of mainstream development. As another example, a Humanitarian Advisor has been placed in the Social Protection department within the Policy Division, helping to forge stronger links between humanitarian response and longer-term development programming.

DFID has moved towards a model of using multidisciplinary teams at the country level to ensure the right expertise is in place, including in Nepal, Nigeria, Syria and Yemen. Some country offices have also set up programme boards where Senior Responsible Officers (SROs) can talk through and identify additional resources needed for coherence and complementarity. Both approaches have proven value but are yet to be systematised in all phases and types of crisis.

In answer to multidisciplinary staffing capacity gaps, Sida has taken the move to prioritise recruitment of 10 resilience- or nexus-focused staff members – new posts created in mid-2019 and deployed to country or regional offices.[2] They have been recruited to have the skillset, prior expertise and the official job description to be able to support and catalyse work across the nexus.

Key questions and considerations for donors

  1. Dedicated staff capacity, incentives and working groups are necessary to forge and drive forward joined-up approaches, but how can this be balanced with mainstreamed responsibilities to avoid the nexus being seen as the responsibility of a select few rather than the responsibility of all?
  2. An effective approach to the nexus in crisis contexts requires that country staff adopt a flexible approach to programming and partner arrangements but working flexibly requires a degree of risk. How can flexibility be achieved by donors with a low risk appetite which disincentivises individual staff to adapt to contextual change?


  • 2
    These posts are deployed to Ethiopia, DRC, Burkina Faso/Sahel, Bangladesh, Sudan/South Sudan.
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