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What we do

What is the focus of SLRC research?

At the centre of SLRC’s research are three core themes, developed over the course of an intensive one-year inception phase.

1. State legitimacy: experiences, perceptions and expectations of the state and local governance in conflict-affected situations

Establishing, building or strengthening state legitimacy is a major element of state-building, and considered important for securing both peace and development. Yet policymakers and researchers have tended to ignore the tricky question of legitimacy – sometimes referred to as the ‘intangible’ element or ‘demand’ side of state-building – instead focusing their attention on the more technical exercise of increasing state capacity. Using a local-level, people-centred perspective, we explore how individuals’ experiences, perceptions and expectations of the state and local governance shape legitimacy, and attempt to identify some of the routes through which improvements in legitimacy might strengthen state-society relations. More specifically, we want to know whether government provision of basic services actually contributes to state-building via its possible effects on state legitimacy.

2. State capacity: building effective states that deliver services and social protection in conflict-affected situations

If the first theme focuses on the ‘demand’ side of state-building, then the second is concerned with its ‘supply’ side. Social protection and basic services are important in their own right, and identifying which mechanisms and partnerships are most effective in terms of securing their delivery in different contexts is a key priority for research and policy. One of the standard modes of international engagement in conflict-affected environments is through programmes where the intention is to build the capacity of the state to a point where international aid actors can handover to government authorities. So, for example, various types of independent service authorities or project management units are created in order to substitute for weaknesses in state delivery capacity, while technical assistance is simultaneously provided to enable line ministries to gradually take increasing responsibility for implementation. There is, however, little evidence on the impacts of international attempts to build state capacity, and many efforts appear to be based on unrealistic expectations about the speed at which state capacities to deliver services can be built.

SLRC research under this theme follows a two-stage logic: we first describe what international actors’ approaches to capacity development in conflict-affected situations look like, before analysing the outcomes of their engagement in order to draw out lessons for future programming. Theme 2 research therefore involves both descriptive and prescriptive elements, and is of direct use to aid agencies engaging in state-building and service delivery operations in conflict-affected environments.

Taken together, these two research themes will generate evidence that contributes towards a fuller understanding of the different dimensions of the state-building process.

3. Livelihood trajectories and economic activity under conflict

Research under this theme asks: what do livelihood trajectories in conflict-affected situations tell us about how governments and aid agencies can more effectively support the ways in which poor and vulnerable people make a living? SLRC addresses this using a longitudinal perspective – a key gap in the current evidence base – which helps build a picture of how people attempt to secure their livelihoods in particular contexts and over time. Rather than tracing the impact of individual programmes, this enables us to start from the perspective of poor people, and to ask which, if any, aid interventions or government policies and programmes are making a difference in peoples’ lives. By paying close attention to the governance structures that both support and undermine people’s livelihoods, we link our research within this theme with our work on legitimacy and state capacity.

Particular issues and sub-themes to investigate in more detail were identified through an iterative process. These include: processes of return; land rights; urbanisation; shifts in gender roles; emerging non-western actors; the role of the private sector; markets (particularly agricultural markets); and opportunities for growth.


How is SLRC doing the research?

At the heart of SLRC’s research is a survey on livelihoods and access to services, which also explores experiences, perceptions and expectations of the state and local governance. Round 1 of the fieldwork was carried out in 2012 and Round 2 was completed in 2015, thus providing a valuable longitudinal, panel-based perspective. The surveys are complemented by in-depth qualitative research. Full details of all SLRC publications are available here.

Developing capacity is at the core of SLRC’s approach to conducting high-quality research, and we achieve this through a combination of activities, including funding PhDs for students from the global south, holding training sessions and workshops, and facilitating collaboration between our partners (for the development of both northern and southern researchers).

SLRC also pays particular attention to mainstreaming gender throughout its work, both in terms of the content of our research (research questions, methods, analysis) as well as the way in which we carry out our work (management, staffing, uptake). In order to track performance and ensure accountability on this front, a core gender team has been established within the Consortium.