Within and Without the State: Effective programming in fragile and conflict affected contexts: Workshop Communique, November 2012 | Oxfam | Capacity Building

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This 'Communique', from the Within and Without the State Workshop, captures the key messages from the workshop, identifies areas for development and suggests key
  Different contexts, common challenges As a key step, staff from the project’s three core countries met in Oxford for a workshop with colleagues from Liberia, Mali, Myanmar, Yemen, and Zimbabwe, and staff from Oxfam House (including colleagues from Advocacy and Humanitarian Departments), to identify the key drivers of better programming in insecure environments. Although they operate in unique, widely differing circumstances, the workshop uncovered challenges common to all. These include unpredictable, rapidly changing contexts; high staff turnover; lack of flexibility in traditional funding and planning approaches, and the need to talk to actors with whom Oxfam might not normally engage. These challenges can undermine country teams, preventing them from delivering programming that fulfils its potential to change lives. So how can they be addressed? Three pillars of effective programming in conflict and fragile contexts Participants identified three core pillars needed to underpin robust programme delivery which remains effective in highly unpredictable environments. They reflected on the current situation and analysed where we would like to get to, and how we can get there. ã Rigorous, ongoing analysis of context Now: Oxfam undertakes context analysis in all countries, but this doesn’t adequately cover the fast pace of change and special complexity in fragile and conflict-affected environments. Future: Programme work in fragile contexts will be based on extensive, continual analysis which rigorously explores power and conflict dynamics, culture, gender and beliefs, and how these are constantly evolving. This enables agile programming that tests new theories in practice, takes calculated risks and responds swiftly to change. WITHIN & WITHOUT THE STATE Effective programming in conflict and fragile contextsWorkshop Communiqué, 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.  How: By developing a culture of analysis, Oxfam can make deep, ongoing understanding of context an integral part of programme design and implementation. This requires development of staff skills, relationship building, adequate time built into programme planning, and management processes that allow reflection and learning, as well as adaptable programming to reflect emergent change. ã Accountability in all directions Now: There is organisational emphasis on upward accountability (within Oxfam and to donors). Despite recognition of the need for full participation by rights-holders and stakeholders, they are often excluded by pressure to produce quick project proposals and reports. Future: Accountability comes from strong, trusting relationships, so that programming in fragile contexts is based on constructive connections across and between levels – from rights-holders, civil society and governments, to Oxfam, our partners and donors. This enables programming that is accountable in every direction, but which emphasises accountability to rights-holders and provides clear mechanisms for their feedback. How: Each programme and project needs an accountability strategy. We must take time to talk with all stakeholders, build relationships and increase rights-holders’ capacity to participate in programme design and review, and develop capacity of staff and partners to enable this. To be accountable, we need to find ways to measure our effectiveness in improving programme delivery, even in the most fluid and challenging contexts. ã A capable organisation with   well-supported staff Now: There is clear organisational ambition to achieve more effective programming in fragile contexts, and country programmes want to deliver this. Often, however, impact is limited by organisational policies and procedures which do not facilitate work in fragile contexts. Country programmes working in fragile contexts were compared in the workshop to a caged cheetah, with the ambition to be agile, fast, and powerful, but sometimes hampered by the organisational context. Future: Organisational policies, practices and systems will address the particular challenges and needs of programmes in fragile contexts, so as to enable effective delivery. How: Freeing the cheetah requires exploration by Oxfam country programmes and senior management of appropriate systems, policies, and resourcing that will best enable country teams in fragile contexts to deliver on Oxfam’s ambitious goals. These may include appropriate funding mechanisms (e.g. an equivalent of the CAT Fund for fragile settings); more flexible project planning (e.g. more spontaneous planning for experimental and emergent change approaches); greater investment in staff (training, pay and incentives) to reduce turnover; better partner capacity building; and bespoke monitoring and evaluation approaches. Taking it forward Effective development programming in fragile and conflict-affected contexts means flexible responses delivered by well-resourced teams, who have strong organisational support to operate according to their unique context. The first step towards this is a change of organisational mind-set at two levels: ã On the ground: balancing agility and sustained action Staff and partners across affiliates need the confidence and vision to be agile, seek new approaches, and respond to rapidly-changing situations in a timely way that is rooted in deep understanding of their context. This needs to be balanced by a commitment to be sustained where necessary – and understanding of when to revise or stick to an approach. ã At organisational level: a supportive framework Effective programming in conflict and fragile contexts needs a particular framework of support. This requires explicit recognition and commitment to developing the necessary culture, systems and functions (including HR, funding, project planning and MEAL).To ensure this change of mind-set at both country and organisational levels, we are committed to continue to share our learning with each other, with our country teams and across Oxfam. We will deepen our understanding of the challenges common to fragile contexts, so we can achieve the resources and support needed for effective programme delivery. Once these systems are proven effective, we will share our learning beyond Oxfam, with civil society, fellow INGOs, partners and donors. If we develop all these connections, conflict and fragile contexts will not be barriers to delivering programmes that protect and improve people’s lives as effectively as possible.
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