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Research Report

Power, Politics, and Change:: How International Actors Assess Local Context

Jenna Slotin
Vanessa Wyeth
Paul Romita
Copyright Date: Jun. 1, 2010
Pages: 28

Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. [i]-[i])
  2. (pp. [ii]-[iii])
  3. (pp. 1-2)
  4. (pp. 3-4)

    The last decade of theory and practice has yielded important lessons about international efforts to prevent conflict, build peace, and foster the development of effective, legitimate, and resilient states capable of meeting the needs and expectations of their populations. Above all, it is now commonly accepted that statebuilding and peacebuilding are deeply political, context-specific processes: to be effective, international responses to fragile situations must therefore grapple with local context.¹ This means understanding several factors: historical trajectories of state formation; underlying drivers of conflict; interaction of political and economic processes within the state; relationships among communities and between state and society;...

  5. (pp. 4-5)

    The inspiration for this project was the general conclusion that international interventions must be rooted in a nuanced understanding of local context. The project’s aim was to better understand how donors operationalize this objective via the use of assessment tools and frameworks, and whether efforts to do so influence decision making, planning, and programming—and to what extent.

    It is important to note that the term “assessment” is used by various actors to refer to several different types of exercises. Many formal governance, conflict, and fragility tools were originally developed to be used by a single agency or department. Yet...

  6. (pp. 5-10)

    Conflict tools and governance tools have distinct origins with different underlying motivations. They tend to mirror the thinking on conflict or governance that was dominant at a given donor agency when the tools were developed. As thinking on state fragility has evolved, newer assessment tools have tended to reflect these emerging ideas and, in some cases, have served as vehicles to promote newer thinking on state fragility and alternative ways of approaching and understanding context.

    The development of conflict assessment tools in the 1990s was motivated by a desire to understand local conflict dynamics and the effects of external action...

  7. (pp. 10-17)

    Overall, we found that experience with assessment tools has produced mixed results as far as impacts on decision making, planning, and programming are concerned. The importance of producing good quality analysis cannot be overstated: a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods, as well as diverse sources of information, is essential to ensure as nuanced and rich an understanding of a situation as possible. Yet, the balance between a detailed and comprehensive assessment and one that produces usable analysis for decision making presents significant challenges. Moreover, content cannot be divorced from process: the extent of an assessment’s influence is rarely, if...

  8. (pp. 17-20)

    In the last ten to fifteen years, international actors have continually refined their tools and approaches to address the challenge of understanding local context. From the earlier conflict and governance assessment tools to newer political-economy analysis and fragility tools, donors have sought new ways to understand the drivers and mitigators of conflict, and to uncover the underlying dynamics that drive relationships of power at multiple levels of state and society. Recognizing that context must be the starting point for all interventions, the drive to develop and refine assessment tools has been critical to fostering increased sensitivity to context.

    However, despite...

  9. (pp. 24-24)