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Effective programming in conflict and fragile contexts
Workshop Communiqu, November 2012

The Within and Without the State project aims to strengthen civil society and encourage more
accountable governance in conflict and fragile contexts. Working in three focus countries
Afghanistan, the Occupied Palestinian Territory/Israel, and South Sudan it develops innovative
programming which promotes dialogue between citizens and power-holders, supports poor
people to claim their rights, and ultimately improves governance structures. Through a wider
learning circle that includes other conflict-affected and fragile countries, the project captures
shared experiences, identifies lessons, and communicates these across and beyond Oxfam to
improve programme delivery in fragile and conflict-affected contexts.

Different contexts, common Three pillars of effective programming

challenges in conflict and fragile contexts
As a key step, staff from the projects three Participants identified three core pillars needed to
core countries met in Oxford for a workshop underpin robust programme delivery which remains
with colleagues from Liberia, Mali, Myanmar, effective in highly unpredictable environments.
Yemen, and Zimbabwe, and staff from Oxfam They reflected on the current situation and
House (including colleagues from Advocacy analysed where we would like to get to, and how we
and Humanitarian Departments), to identify the can get there.
key drivers of better programming in insecure
Rigorous, ongoing analysis of context
environments. Although they operate in unique,
Now: Oxfam undertakes context analysis in all
widely differing circumstances, the workshop
countries, but this doesnt adequately cover the
uncovered challenges common to all. These include
fast pace of change and special complexity in
unpredictable, rapidly changing contexts; high staff
fragile and conflict-affected environments.
turnover; lack of flexibility in traditional funding
and planning approaches, and the need to talk to Future: Programme work in fragile contexts
actors with whom Oxfam might not normally engage. will be based on extensive, continual analysis
These challenges can undermine country teams, which rigorously explores power and conflict
preventing them from delivering programming that dynamics, culture, gender and beliefs, and how
fulfils its potential to change lives. So how can they these are constantly evolving. This enables agile
be addressed? programming that tests new theories in practice,
takes calculated risks and responds swiftly
to change.
How: By developing a culture of analysis, Oxfam How: Freeing the cheetah requires exploration
can make deep, ongoing understanding of by Oxfam country programmes and senior
context an integral part of programme design and management of appropriate systems, policies, and
implementation. This requires development of staff resourcing that will best enable country teams in
skills, relationship building, adequate time built into fragile contexts to deliver on Oxfams ambitious
programme planning, and management processes goals. These may include appropriate funding
that allow reflection and learning, as well as mechanisms (e.g. an equivalent of the CAT Fund for
adaptable programming to reflect emergent change. fragile settings); more flexible project planning (e.g.
more spontaneous planning for experimental and
Accountability in all directions
emergent change approaches); greater investment
Now: There is organisational emphasis on upward
in staff (training, pay and incentives) to reduce
accountability (within Oxfam and to donors). Despite
turnover; better partner capacity building; and
recognition of the need for full participation by
bespoke monitoring and evaluation approaches.
rights-holders and stakeholders, they are often
excluded by pressure to produce quick project
proposals and reports. Taking it forward
Effective development programming in fragile
Future: Accountability comes from strong, trusting and conflict-affected contexts means flexible
relationships, so that programming in fragile responses delivered by well-resourced teams,
contexts is based on constructive connections who have strong organisational support to operate
across and between levels from rights-holders, according to their unique context. The first step
civil society and governments, to Oxfam, our towards this is a change of organisational mind-set
partners and donors. This enables programming at two levels:
that is accountable in every direction, but which
emphasises accountability to rights-holders and On the ground: balancing agility and sustained
provides clear mechanisms for their feedback. action
Staff and partners across affiliates need the
How: Each programme and project needs an confidence and vision to be agile, seek new
accountability strategy. We must take time to approaches, and respond to rapidly-changing
talk with all stakeholders, build relationships and situations in a timely way that is rooted in deep
increase rights-holders capacity to participate understanding of their context. This needs to be
in programme design and review, and develop balanced by a commitment to be sustained where
capacity of staff and partners to enable this. To be necessary and understanding of when to revise
accountable, we need to find ways to measure our or stick to an approach.
effectiveness in improving programme delivery,
even in the most fluid and challenging contexts. At organisational level: a supportive framework
Effective programming in conflict and fragile
A capable organisation with contexts needs a particular framework of support.
well-supported staff This requires explicit recognition and commitment
Now: There is clear organisational ambition to to developing the necessary culture, systems and
achieve more effective programming in fragile functions (including HR, funding, project planning
contexts, and country programmes want to and MEAL).
deliver this. Often, however, impact is limited by
organisational policies and procedures which do To ensure this change of mind-set at both country
not facilitate work in fragile contexts. Country and organisational levels, we are committed to
programmes working in fragile contexts were continue to share our learning with each other,
compared in the workshop to a caged cheetah, with with our country teams and across Oxfam. We
the ambition to be agile, fast, and powerful, but will deepen our understanding of the challenges
sometimes hampered by the organisational context. common to fragile contexts, so we can achieve
the resources and support needed for effective
Future: Organisational policies, practices and programme delivery. Once these systems are
systems will address the particular challenges and proven effective, we will share our learning beyond
needs of programmes in fragile contexts, so as to Oxfam, with civil society, fellow INGOs, partners
enable effective delivery. and donors. If we develop all these connections,
conflict and fragile contexts will not be barriers to
delivering programmes that protect and improve
peoples lives as effectively as possible.