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14 December 2014 12:51

In the run up to International Migrants Day, SLRC has teamed up with Al Jazeera to bring together academics and journalists to tell a story about what migrants face when they embark on this risky journey.

Written by Richard Mallett on 12 November 2014 18:07

Most economic activity in developing countries is informal in nature. But the mistake people make is thinking that it is therefore untaxed and open to all (a kind of ultimate free market). This simply isn’t the case.

SLRC Researcher, Richard Mallett 

10 November 2014 17:02
Although the state has been primarily responsible for financing and administering social protection initiatives in Nepal over the last ten to 20 years, external aid agencies have been pivotal in shaping the social protection policy landscape, both through the promotion of particular programmes and the provision of knowledge and expertise.

Bishnu Upreti, SLRC Nepal  Research Programme Leader
Written by Richard Mallett on 06 October 2014 09:28

Making judgements about whether the continued use of traditional health providers in Sierra Leone is right or wrong misses the point. The fact is it happens. Dealing with long-term health problems first means understanding how local health systems actually work and why people continue to use the providers they do.

SLRC Researcher, Richard Mallett 

Written by Richard Mallett on 16 September 2014 12:08

We have known about the impacts of the seasons on health and agriculture for decades. It therefore seems remarkable that this fundamental issue still does not feature as a core pillar of health and nutrition programming.

SLRC Researcher, Richard Mallett 

28 August 2014 10:07

An increase in female-headed households is one of the most significant features of post-conflict realities in Asia and Africa. It is imperative that we foster a better understanding of the implications for post-war development and the experiences of women who are the economic and social bulwarks of such families.

Mira Philips, Centre for Poverty Analysis
12 August 2014 14:09

Post-war development initiatives need to combine bottom-up and community-led as well as state-led approaches. The former is central to empowerment, but so are robust institutional frameworks that can deliver effectively. However, an over-emphasis upon state-led approaches and institutions will fail in the absence of legitimacy or confidence by the people.

Mira Philips, Centre for Poverty Analysis

25 July 2014 10:26

Over the last four decades, attempts to reduce malnutrition in Sierra Leone have been met with mixed success. To tackle the country's high rate of malnutrition the Government has made a commitment to ensure that 60% of infants are exclusively breastfed by 2016. This infographic looks at the factors which need to be considered if Sierra Leone is to actually meet this objective. Based on our data from Kambia, there is still a way to go.
Written by Lisa Denney on 24 July 2014 13:02

If development practitioners aim to improve people’s lives – either by providing improved healthcare or ensuring access to justice – they need to engage with the multiple providers of these services that people actually use, rather than just one part of the system.

SLRC Sierra Leone research programme lead, Lisa Denney

02 July 2014 14:42

Understanding the role that women play in the local economy and the challenges they face in post war Sri Lanka, is very much linked to the role that women play in society – and the way in which their roles are perceived and valued.

SLRC Research Uptake Director, Priyanthi Fernando

The idea of ‘post-war’ immediately conjures up the situation in the North and the East where the overt fighting was most severe, and where the war devastated the infrastructure, displaced communities and destroyed a way of life and living. But at the same time, I don’t think we should be confining our label of ‘post-war’ to the north and east. It’s my contention that ALL of Sri Lanka is in a post-war situation; the war has affected all of us – in the north and in the south – Tamils and Sinhalese, and all of our institutions and our governance systems, and even our own individual ways of thinking and behaving. It has polarized communities..

Read the full blog: Women in the local economy in post war Sri Lanka

Written by Richard Mallett on 26 June 2014 14:14

What are we talking about when we talk about capacity? The answer should be straightforward, given that ideas of “capacity” and “capacity building” frame the way many of us think about – and do – development. But often the response is fuzzy and unclear...

SLRC/ODI Researcher, Richard Mallett

When most people talk about capacity, they actually mean either “stuff” – resources and equipment – or hard skills in some technical discipline. This is the obvious starting point: without proper medical facilities or trained staff, how can a local health clinic do its job? Which is probably why so many capacity building programs try to fill deficits by giving stuff and providing technical training. But often the real problems confronting service providers have nothing to do with what's available in a tangible or technical sense – this might be a symptom, but it's not the root of the problem. So what do we then do in terms of thinking about capacity?

Read the full blog : Beyond Stuff: Capacity as a Relational Concept

25 June 2014 15:49

The Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium has started to publish baseline survey reports for Uganda, Nepal and Pakistan, with more in the pipeline. These are attempts to catalogue people's attitudes and perceptions of livelihoods support, access to basic services and economic opportunities, and governance.                        

Alyoscia D'Onofrio, IRC's Senior Director for Governance & Rights programming

Maybe it’s the multi-disciplinary, multi-agency, multi-country, multi-method, multi-year research programme focused on how people survive and recover from conflict that I find so compelling and full of potential.

Or maybe I’m just attracted to yellow and black logos.

Either way, the Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium has started to publish baseline survey reports for Uganda, Nepal and Pakistan, with more in the pipeline. These are attempts to catalogue people’s attitudes and perceptions around three basic but incredibly important themes.

  1. Their livelihoods (how they make ends meet, how they compromise when they can’t)
  2. Their access to economic opportunities and essential services (health, education, water, social safety nets);
  3. Their views of government (national and local).

These are a baseline because the researchers will be going back to track changes two to three years later. This makes for an even more valuable resource as we’ll go from having a snapshot of people’s opinions to being able to view trends over time...

Read the full blog: What’s yellow, black and tantalising?

25 June 2014 15:08

What we are doing to convince people of the importance of gender in development isn't working. We need to go beyond ‘target women’ approaches and bring back a focus on empowerment - and we really shouldn't be afraid to be political.                 

Rebecca Holmes, ODI researcher, and Rachel Slater, SLRC Research Director

When progress is slow and difficult, we often talk about how we are able to move two steps forward but then tend to slide one step back. When we were invited to write this opinion piece, we started to wonder whether, if we are really going to get gender taken seriously in fragile and conflict-affected situations, we might need to go back a bit in order to make progress – back to the concepts of the early ‘women in development’ approaches which were radical, politicised, heavily activist and feminist in nature...

Read the full blog: One step backwards two steps forward? Unlocking gender equality in fragile and conflict-affected situations

Read the working paper: Gender-responsive budgeting in fragile and conflict-affected states - a review

Written by Paul Harvey on 25 April 2014 14:26

How resilient will the New Deal prove to be in the face of renewed conflict in South Sudan?      

Paul Harvey, SLRC Director

The tragic resumption of conflict in South Sudan has highlighted a concern with the current state-building focus of so much international engagement in fragile and conflict-affected places. As embodied by the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States, the current emphasis of international support is very much on country ownership with ‘state-building as the central objective’. There is much to commend this process, rooted as it is in fragile states starting to assert their sovereignty and ownership of their own development through the G7+ forum. It’s also an understandable reaction to international engagement that in fragile states has too long ignored national systems and capacities and too quickly substituted for the state.

But there’s a danger that the pendulum has swung too far back the other way. The New Deal works well in contexts where the fragile state and its donors have good relationships and when things are going well. What’s less clear is how resilient it is in the face of renewed conflict, as we are currently seeing in South Sudan. If the New Deal approach, and the shift in international modes of engagement that lies behind it, isn’t well adapted to cope with places where conflict resumes or never really stops, then this presents a major problem because fragile states are, well, fragile and so prone to relapse into conflict and violence. There’s a risk that the emphasis on working through national systems implies an ‘all your eggs in one basket’ approach to supporting post-conflict recovery. International actors may need to think more about how to maintain a critical distance from particular regimes, how to maintain the capacity for independent humanitarian action when needed and how to engage the state and non-state actors at multiple and particularly local levels – not just the national level. As Pantuliano argues, international engagement has, ‘too often followed textbook prescriptions and overlooked the political and social realities of the country, treating it instead as a technical exercise in state building.’

There is potential to look at events in South Sudan and ask whether the aid transition after Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) got the balance and timing right in moving away from international actors financed through humanitarian windows to new funding streams and different actors. As Wendy Fenton argued back in 2008, there was a need for a better mix of aid instruments, accessible to NGOs and focused on immediate service delivery and longer-term state building.

When the immediate humanitarian situation (hopefully) starts to improve it will be important to ask whether the post-CPA investments in state building have proved at all resilient in the face of the current conflict, how local-level governance institutions have responded to conflict and what has happened to peoples’ views about the legitimacy and role of the state. These are questions which we’ll be looking to explore in the SLRC South Sudan research programme.

Written by Richard Mallett on 10 April 2014 11:02

Many Nepalese believe that electricity blackouts are akin to a tax on their livelihoods. So how should the state respond?

SLRC/ODI Researcher, Richard Mallett

I've been in Nepal since January helping out with the implementation of a household survey. Throughout February and March, we asked people in two districts - Jhapa, in the south-east of the country on the Indian border, and Tibetan-bordering Sindhupalchok to the north - about their livelihoods, the various taxes they pay, and their relationships with state governance. As part of this research, we've also been carrying out a number of more in-depth qualitative interviews.

When asked about the kinds of taxes that most affect their livelihoods on a day-to-day basis, one of the things that struck me about people's responses was the frequency with which electricity bills were mentioned. At first, I couldn't quite understand why this was coming up so much: that's not a tax, I thought, it's simply a payment made in exchange for a service. In my mind, I began to discount these responses, passing them off as information that missed the points we were trying to get at.

My assumptions were misplaced.

Click here to keep reading and share your views.

19 March 2014 20:43

The invisibility of women's fishing related activities at the household, community and decision making levels leads to their exclusion from the institutional and technical support in a post-war context. 

SLRC/CEPA Researcher, Gayathri Lokuge
Written by Rachel Slater on 18 March 2014 15:08

Is it possible to deliver basic services effectively and efficiently, and at the same time enhance state legitimacy in fragile states?

SLRC Research Director, Rachel Slater

I should admit to being highly sceptical of ‘win-win’ situations. I’m reminded of the agricultural economist, Michael Lipton, telling me very early in my career: ‘Rachel, I have never in my entire career seen a single case of two birds being killed with one stone.’ And I work predominantly in the social protection sector where, albeit slowly, we are learning that if you heap too many objectives on to a simple instrument like cash transfers or school feeding, you risk not achieving any of them satisfactorily.

I have similar concerns about the common mantra that we hear in development agencies about fragile states: deliver basic services, especially health, education, water and sanitation, and (hey presto!) enhance the relationship between citizens and the state. Is it possible to deliver basic services effectively and efficiently, and at the same time enhance state legitimacy? I’m not sure. We know that some programme design and implementation choices that focus on, for example, building state legitimacy, lead to sub-optimal outcomes for the development of human capital and, therefore, for the reduction of poverty . Put more simply, trade-offs are everywhere. So what more did I learn about this at the WDR 2004 10th Anniversary Conference in Washington D.C. last week? And what continues to niggle and remains unresolved?

One lesson was some food for thought about the role of the private sector in delivering services in fragile and conflict-affected countries. Richard Batley stressed the need to recognise that the private sector is often the main service provider in many fragile countries and, rather than replacing a government-provided service that has collapsed during conflict, the private sector has always been the main provider in some places – the Kivus in eastern DRC are a good

example. Paul Collier suggested that governments should take overall responsibility for the delivery of services but not the function itself. Derek Brinkerhoff, Egbert Sondorp and Jacob Shapiro focused more on how to manage resources and funds to deliver services and provided some important insights about the kinds of changes needed in the roles and approaches of development agencies and governments, especially around resourcing, leadership and


My second lesson was that we must not be too simplistic in the way we portray thinking by donor agencies about the service delivery – such as my own caricatured description of the common mantra of development agencies on services and state-building above! We too often set up a straw man to knock it down (we oversimplify donors’ positions and then we prove the actual situation is more complex). For example, Alan Whaites stressed that the OECD’s message about service delivery and statebuilding has somehow been distilled to focus on the actual delivery bit, when, in actual fact, the OECD posited that meeting people’s expectations in relation to service delivery (not just delivering services) was a mechanism that might increase state legitimacy. And we need to heed Jacob Shapiro’s experience in Pakistan where he found that, while the delivery of services following floods in 2010 didn’t lead directly to increased state legitimacy, it did increase participation in elections in targeted areas.

And the unresolved issues? Well, I’m left with a concern that the current approach to building (state) institutions and delivering services in post-conflict situations pushes for a transition from humanitarian assistance to building state capacity far too quickly. This is problematic because of the lack of absorptive capacity and access to remote areas –Egbert Sondorp described how large health infrastructure projects in South Sudan were only able to build hospitals just outside Juba and failed to expand health infrastructure much further than that.

But I have a deeper concern – one that emerges from the last week’s discussions about the roles of state and non-state providers, the extent to which there are trade-offs between enhancing state legitimacy and delivering services, and what sorts of transitions are required post-conflict. My concern is whether, in the current push to move rapidly to state delivery of services following a conflict, and to build the capacity of state at speed (rather than have non-state provision) we are investing in services in conflict-affected situations that are not even vaguely conflict-proof.

Conflict and violence rarely come to a full stop right after a peace agreement, and many countries slide back into conflict or remain fragile, but how far does our programming insure against that? Rebecca Winthrop pointed out that in the education sector, too much attention is paid to who is delivering services, and far too little to whether children’s education is able to continue, uninterrupted and without disruption, during conflicts.

Ultimately, I came away from the WDR 2004 anniversary meeting wondering about South Sudan, and how much of the millions of dollars of investment in building services there has survived the violence of December 2013 and remains intact? Rather than prioritising state-building objectives in relation to services, should we not focus more on ensuring that our programming is conflict sensitive and will be sustained even in the face of further violence?

This piece was originally published in "Public services at the crossroads: Ten years after the World Development Report 2004: reflections on the past decade and implications for the future".

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14 March 2014 12:08

Persistent constraints in resources, skills and knowledge, and lack of political engagement are undermining Sierra Leone's capability to prevent malnutrition. The images published by New Internationalist capture the story.

By Richard Mallett and Lisa Denney

Over a decade since the civil war officially ended in Sierra Leone,  malnutrition still remains a serious problem in Sierra Leone, with the country ranked among the five states with the highest global hunger index score in 2009. As Sierra Leone has moved away from the post-conflict moment and becomes less fragile, nutrition policy has also shifted from a focus on treatment to prevention.

We have just published a report which suggests that persistent constraints in resources, skills and knowledge, and lack of political engagement are undermining the state’s capability to prevent malnutrition.

The main recommendations are to:

  • Build more varied capacity development activities that engage systems as well as individual and organisational levels of capacity
  • Target political, incentive and organisational/management constraints, as much as knowledge and resource constraints.
  • Move away from training and provision of resources, towards more flexible engagements that aim to facilitate a political process.
  • Develop approaches that centre on facilitation, brokering and iterative problem-solving.

A photo story by SLRC about malnutrition in Sierra Leone was recently profiled in the New Internationalist

Images courtesy of Richard Mallett.

View the images here: http://newint.org/features/web-exclusive/2014/03/13/photo-malnutrition-sierra-leone/

Written by Paul Harvey on 13 March 2014 14:51

Capacity building is stuck in a rut and tackling malnutrition in Sierra Leone requires different approaches

Paul Harvey, SLRC Director

The other day I was presenting to IrishAid a recent SLRC report on how international aid attempts to build the capacity of the government of Sierra Leone to tackle malnutrition. It’s a great report and I’d urge people to read it. Our researchers spent some time out in Kambia looking at how the programmes attempting to build nutrition capacity actually worked at the local level. It’s the first stage of a research programme with a survey of access and coverage in the district just being completed and further qualitative work to come this year.

It finds that attempts to build capacity are still very much stuck in a short-term training mode. As one interviewee lamented, ‘Training, training, training, training, training – how much training does one person need?!’ The big hope for an approach to tackle the causes of malnutrition (not just treatment) are investments in mother-to-mother support groups and farmer field schools. These are supported through cascade training (training one group of people who then train others) and some provision of resources. These aren’t working very well at the local level with a big problem of Chinese whispers – once the training has percolated down to the local level very little of the content remains. Capacity support focuses on resources and skills and knowledge at the individual and organisation levels. Other forms of support that target different kinds of capacity and focus on the system and political processes are frequently overlooked.

The recommendations are to:

  • Build more varied capacity development activities that engage systems as well as individual and organisational levels of capacity
  • Target political, incentive and organisational/management constraints, as much as knowledge and resource constraints.
  • Move away from training and provision of resources, towards more flexible engagements that aim to facilitate a political process.
  • Develop approaches that centre on facilitation, brokering and iterative problem-solving.

So we’re firmly in the territory of much recent governance research arguing for more of a focus on brokering and facilitating change. The problem, if we’re to have any chance of getting donors to act on these recommendations, is twofold. Firstly, the findings on the failings of existing approaches are pretty well known – we’re in ‘no shit Sherlock’ territory here. The repetition continues, though, because development agencies are yet to really take this on board. But secondly, there are lots of reasons why donors find it really hard to switch to the more flexible, politically and context savvy local level engagements that keep being recommended to them. There’s a tension between PDIA (Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation) type approaches and the increased emphasis on local ownership and ensuring governments are in the driving seat in aid effectiveness debates. On the one hand, donors are being told to be ‘more political’ but on the other, they’re being told to butt out of politics. So we’re recommending things that are obvious but difficult.

My presentation ended with JUST TRY SOMETHING DIFFERENT in big friendly capitals and an adaptation of a questionable Einstein quote – ‘Development is (sometimes) doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’. But to be really helpful to donors we probably need to start saying more about what the ‘something different’ looks like. I certainly don’t have the magic bullet for how to nail the ‘so what?’ of recent governance research, and our Sierra Leone research programme is at an early stage – we hope to engage with some of the ‘so what?’ questions more thoroughly in our ongoing research this year.

I did have one possibly helpful thought in relation to nutrition, which was that nutrition could learn from the Community-Led Total Sanitation movement (CLTS). We are, after all, talking about not dissimilar problems – how to facilitate and encourage behavioural change at the community level to tackle a public health problem. And it’s a problem where there are huge and under-explored links between poor sanitation and nutrition. So maybe there’s scope for nutrition to adopt CLTS type approaches and for supporting more joined up action to tackle sanitation and nutrition challenges within communities (and probably much already going on in this area – we’re conscious of being new to the sector and risking teaching grandmothers to suck eggs).

12 February 2014 11:33

A visit to a village in the North three years after the fighting ended provides insights on the challenges of resettling the war displaced.

Aftab Lall - SLRC Sri Lanka Researcher

It's been five years since the Sri Lankan military declared victory over the LTTE. Many people displaced by the war have been able to return home, access basic services and restart their lives and livelihoods. However, many remain displaced and are in urgent need of personal security, safe housing, and access to basic services.

We have just published a paper looking at how the politics of the Sri Lankan state underpins the resettlement of people displaced during the last stages of the war, particularly focusing on the state’s approach to post-war development, security, and international relations.

The paper started to take shape after we visited the North in the warm month of July 2012 and met with those who had been displaced and resettled, as well as officials from the government administration, representatives of (I)NGOs and religious organisations. We wanted to find out about the government’s post-war resettlement process, which had been underway since the end of the war in 2009. Three years later, there were a significant number of people who continued to live in displacement - such was the situation for the people of Mullikulam in North West Sri Lanka. When we spoke to them they told us that the greatest threat to their lives at present were the elephants that roamed about in close proximity to their camp. They would light small fires at night to keep them at bay. Exposure to the unrelenting sun; heavy rain; swarms of flies; and of course the elephants - were just some of the conditions the people of Mullikulam were willing to put up with until they can return to their homeland, which had been appropriated by the Sri Lankan Navy.

The people of Mullikulam were living in extremely poor conditions. Living spaces were demarcated by tiny stretches of earth that had been cleared of undergrowth. Some had loosely strung tarpaulin sheet roofs, while others trusted the dense foliage for shelter. Their belongings (a few suitcases and bags) doubled up as furniture. Yet their destitute living conditions stood in stark contrast to their energy, assertiveness and the optimism with which they shared their story with us, as well as their hopes of going back home.

In 2007, with the fighting taking place exclusively in the North, the people of Mullikulam were evicted from their homes by the Sri Lankan armed forces for security reasons and they were told they would be allowed to return in a few days’ time. Having no other option, they left with a few belongings expecting to return in a few days and carry on with livelihoods activities, mainly farming and fishing. After five years of continual displacement, many decided to try and move back, but were prevented from doing so by the Navy. There have been a number of allegations suggesting that Navy personnel have in fact moved into people’s homes. The decision by the Mullikulam people to live in the jungle on the outskirts of the Naval base was in protest to a perceived injustice. They also hoped the protest would grab the attention of anybody willing to listen and help them get their land and livelihoods back. Our conversation was cut short by a visit from the Bishop of Mannar, accompanied by two politicians - one from the government and another from the opposition, and a man with a large video camera. An entourage of government security personnel and members from the Red Cross tailed them. We were told that the Bishop was in dialogue with local political and military actors attempting to broker a deal for the people of Mullikulam.

I remember getting increasingly anxious. We knew of the sensitivities around issues of displacement and the evictions that have taken place due to the establishment of high security zones (HSZs) all over the North of Sri Lanka, both during and after the war. We were also well aware of the omnipresence of the military, often in plain clothing- keeping a close eye on visitors. My colleague, familiar with government actors, managed to extract us from further interrogation (what are you doing here? how did you hear about these people? etc.). Our interviews and conversations with civil servants in the northern administration revealed a strong control over information around the resettlement process. We were told that information on the resettlement process could only be shared after getting approval from the Presidential Task Force (PTF). 

What is the PTF? When was it set up? Why was it set up? What role do such government organisations play in the resettlement process? How do these organisations and actors facilitate and mediate issues of displacement and resettlement? Looking into these questions can provide us with some insight into how things have been functioning on the ground since the end of the war, and what more needs to be done to ensure people can return home.

We also wanted to know how broader political, economic and social trends in Sri Lanka influence the destiny of people in similar circumstances: why they remain displaced from their land; why high security zones continue to function after the withdrawal of the emergency and how local, national and international actors shape the post-war landscape and the lives and livelihoods of people affected by violent conflict. Since the time of research and writing the paper, the context in the North has changed in some aspects, yet remains the same in others. We met the people of Mullikulam a month into them living in the forest on the outskirts of the navy base. Since then, some have been resettled in another settlement, and have been given access to some of their land to practice their traditional livelihoods, however, many continue to voice their wish to return to their original lands.

Over the coming months the SLRC team in Sri Lanka will be looking into how those who have been resettled, as well as those who continue to be displaced, access basic services and social protection, and re-build their livelihoods.

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Content here...

Welcome to SLRC's blog.

This blog will feature reflections from our team of researchers on the practicalities of actually conducting research in conflict-affected situations. We will also be posting guest blogs written by key researchers and practioners working on livelihoods, basic services and social protection in conflict-affected situations.