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Achieving policy coherence in challenging environments

Professor Mark Duffield

Professor Mark Duffield

18 March 2010

A team led by Professor Mark Duffield from the University’s Global Insecurities Centre in the Department of Politics and Dr Sarah Collinson of the Humanitarian Policy Group, Overseas Development Institute, London, has been awarded funding of almost £500,000 for a project on risk management in conflict-affected states.

The two-year project, which begins in October 2010, is funded by the Department for International Development and the Economic and Social Research Council as part of its Security, Conflict and Development theme.

The primary objective of the research is to delineate the extent to which risk management and enhanced threat awareness among United Nations (UN) agencies and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) challenge their ability to achieve ambitious and transformational policy goals in conflict-affected fragile states. 

Since the 1990s, aid agencies working in war-affected fragile states have been involved in ambitious programmes of social and political transformation. To achieve these far-reaching aims, policy makers have encouraged the integration of international aid and political objectives to create ‘comprehensive’ multi-agency policy environments. While there has been some debate on the consequences of raising the political profile of aid work in this way, there is little research on how aid agencies are actually responding to the increased security risks they now face. What evidence exists suggests an expansion of field-security and risk-awareness training, a growing influence of security experts in programme design, and increased institutional risk aversion, including insurance-based restrictions on movement and residence.   

The case studies are South Sudan and Afghanistan. While South Sudan is at a stage of post-conflict recovery, Afghanistan remains a site of conflict. Risk management has grown in Afghanistan in relation to actual threats and involves relations with a variety of security actors. In South Sudan, however, it owes more to the application of centralised security measures and insurance concerns. From counterinsurgency to post-conflict reconstruction, the case studies offer a range of contexts in which the research questions will be explored.

In both locations, the main research sites are international ‘gated communities’ in urban areas, fortified aid compounds and the exclusive means of transport that mesh these secure sites into an ‘archipelago’ of international aid. Working within this archipelago, the research will examine how risk management defines and maintains the archipelago’s spatial boundaries and shapes outcomes on the ground. In terms of organisational culture, UN agencies, international NGOs and local NGOs are the main focus, although donor representatives, government bodies, private security companies, the military and the beneficiaries of aid will also be interviewed.

A dedicated website to support this work will be available nearer the start date.


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