Findings from the second phase of research: 2017 – 2019

The first phase of our research (2011 – 2017) explored questions around state legitimacy, state capacity, and livelihoods trajectories. We learned that state-building and recovery are turbulent processes – and supporting them requires more than technical ‘best-practice’ fixes. Policy and programming need to become more adept at navigating politics, building relationships, and responding to ever-changing situations.


The findings challenged a number of widely-held beliefs in the development sector around how people recover from conflict and the relationship between individuals, services and the state. In doing so, the research threw up a number of further questions, including the continuing instability of livelihoods in post-conflict situations, what shapes the behaviours of people in these situations, and the relationship between service delivery and state legitimacy.


Phase II (2017-2019) therefore seeks to shed some light on these questions and provide practical recommendations and guidance for policy-makers and practitioners.


Theme 1: What are the underlying reasons for continued livelihoods instability in post-conflict recovery situations?

Theme 2: How does the experience of violent conflict or its aftermath link to how people perceive, define, and experience trust, fairness, or expectations of the future as part of their post-conflict recovery?

Theme 3: When does service delivery influence the negotiation of state legitimacy?

Theme 1: Livelihoods instability

The studies under this theme question currently held assumptions about the nature of exchange and economic behaviour in rural economies. These studies demonstrate that livelihoods in conflict and post-conflict settings are in socially embedded economies – driven by patron-client relationship and non-contractual obligations.


Eight pieces of research were conducted in five countries: Afghanistan, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Uganda. Research was conducted by the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU), Centre for Poverty Analysis (CEPA – Sri Lanka), Feinstein International Center (FIC, Tufts University – Uganda), Nepal Institute for Social and Environmental Research (NISER), Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI – Pakistan). The research was led by Vagisha Gunasekara.


In Afghanistan, we delve into the role of informal borrowing as a buffer in sustaining livelihoods. In Sri Lanka, we examine the suitability of ‘entrepreneurship’ promotion as a development intervention for people in war-affected areas. The study in Nepal looks at work and livelihood patterns of women in migrant households. The Pakistan study investigates how households access credit, the impact of indebtedness on families, and develops a framework that explains household indebtedness and its impacts. Lastly, the research in Uganda focuses on the internal migration of young people and their experiences with employment, the livelihoods realities of the war-wounded, and how livelihood trajectories of the war-affected influence decisions related to education of young people.


The evidence generated by the studies offers a number of insights into why people in conflict settings can no longer sustain their own lives through direct access to a living wage, why policies and aid interventions aimed at socio-economic recovery fail and the mechanisms people use in order to stay afloat within these economies. We have published five of the eight reports. The final three reports (in Uganda, Nepal and Pakistan) will be published later in 2019.


Read the research:

  • ‘We do what we have to do’: Cultures of indebtedness among women entrepreneurs in the east of Sri Lanka
  • The state of the war-wounded in northern Uganda: Data from 2013-2018 on their lives and access to healthcare
  • On borrowed time: The limits of informal credit for livelihood security in Herat, Afghanistan
  • ‘She told me that life here is so easy’: Urban migration of Acholi youth, Uganda
  • Policy dissonance in enterprise development programming in Sri Lanka



Theme 2: Behaviour and recovery

In SLRC I, we observed that even after conflict ends, people often struggled to perceive their lives as getting better. This perception persisted even when indicators showed that security, access to services, and infrastructure were improving. An overarching sentiment is that communities feel that they cannot recover from war. We ask: what exactly is the emotional experience of post-conflict recovery and how are these emotions reflected in behaviour? How do emotions and behaviour create a quality of the post-conflict environment that might support or hinder experiencing recovery?


The research under this theme uses an innovative research design combining structured qualitative work informed by complexity theory with experimental behavioural games, using a lab in the field. This work was augmented by further open-ended qualitative work and findings from the SLRC survey.


Overall, we find that remembering the experience of a conflict had a measurable impact on behaviour: if people are reminded of the conflict just before participating in behavioural games, they behave differently than those who have not been reminded. This highlights the power that the conflict – or the memory of it – has to shape behaviour.


Read the research:

  • The mental landscape of post-conflict recovery in northern Uganda (report series – forthcoming)

Theme 3: Services and state legitimacy

The case studies under this theme consider when and why services influence the negotiation of state legitimacy. Development donors and practitioners often assume that improving access to services will contribute to improving state legitimacy in post-conflict environments. Findings from SLRC I did not support this assumption; data from our panel survey indicated that access to, or improved satisfaction with basic services did not translate into improved perceptions of government. On the other hand, when people experienced a problem with a service, this translated into negative perceptions of government.


In SLRC Phase II, we sought to understand why access to, or improved satisfaction with basic services had a limited effect on people’s perception of government while experiencing problems with services had a much stronger effect. We broadened our research angle to examine processes of negotiating state legitimacy and located this negotiation within evolving political settlements. Using this broader approach, we sought to understand when certain aspects of service delivery become salient in the negotiation of state legitimacy.


Case studies were conducted in three countries: Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Pakistan. Researchers from the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) in Pakistan, the Social Scientists Association (SSA) in Sri Lanka, Overseas Development Institute (ODI) in the UK and independent researchers collaborated to produce these case studies. The research was led by Aoife McCullough.


Read the research:

  • Services and legitimacy: exploring the everyday experiences of the state in Sri Lanka
  • Services and legitimacy: everyday experiences of the state in Nepal’s Terai region
  • Why services won’t always buy legitimacy: everyday experiences of the state in Swat, Pakistan
  • How did social welfare provision (de-)legitimise the post-colonial state in Sri Lanka?