Working towards legitimate stability

Security & Rule of Law meeting with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs

16 July 2019

Representatives from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and seven Security & Rule of Law (SRoL) Applied Research Fund projects participated in a joint meeting on 11 July 2019 in The Hague. The projects started in December 2018 following a call for proposals on the political dilemma of legitimate stability. This meeting was focused on exchange and uptake of the research approaches and (preliminary) findings.

The morning meeting promoted the exchange between projects on innovative research uptake tools as well as on the challenges which projects face when working in an area where proscribed organisations are active. During the uptake session in the afternoon, the Applied Research Fund projects of the sixth call (ARF6) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) policy officers engaged in a series of critical discussions, reflecting upon the results framework of the Department for Stabilisation and Humanitarian Aid (DSH), which accompanies their Theory of Change for Security and Rule of Law programming to promote legitimate stability. The discussions were based on the ARF6 projects’ insights on legitimacy, and aimed to help improve the framework - sensitising it to local dynamics of legitimation processes.

Innovative tools for research uptake and working with proscribed organisations

During the morning session, the ARF6 projects exchanged experiences on two important topics which related to their own projects: (innovative) tools for research uptake and working with proscribed organisations. The first topic was introduced by an presentation on Theatre for Development – an innovative research uptake strategy –and involved an exchange on research uptake challenges encountered, also in view of the sensitivity around legitimacy. The second topic led to a discussion on the ethical and practical challenges and considerations for projects – and research in general – which focus on a topic and or area in which proscribed organisations are active.

Did you know? Target your message to specific stakeholder audiences (and be sensitive to how the message will be received)

Mathijs van Leeuwen (ARF6 project ‘Grounded Legitimacy’) provided an interesting presentation on using theatre (Theatre for Development) as part of the knowledge sharing strategy. This innovative tool for knowledge sharing combines research and research uptake: through project research a number of scenarios have been identified whereby legitimacy is affected by land governance intervention, causing friction between stakeholders involved. Through theatre play these scenarios are re-enacted, sensitising participants to these dynamics. The need to be sensitive to how messages come across to different stakeholder groups becomes apparent in this approach; although theatre plays seem non-invasive, the play has been met with some resistance by village members due to the exaggerated nature of the scenarios. However, the theatre play was intended for stakeholders from the implementing organisations, whereby this exaggeration can help this stakeholder group become more conscious of different types of conflicts which may arise due to their interventions.

Did you know? Understand the context you are working in, and adapt your knowledge sharing approach accordingly

Following the presentation, the group discussed individual ARF6 research uptake challenges in a Margolis Wheel. A common ARF6 finding of this session was that innovative tools may not easily be replicated in another context. Hence, understanding a project’s context is very important when developing a targeted knowledge sharing approach. As contexts may change, or may be more complex than initially foreseen, it was also noted that a research funder would have to allow some flexibility – allowing adaptation to the knowledge sharing approach.

Did you know? More insights needed on the ethical and practical challenges related to research and proscribed organisations

In the second morning session, and based on a case brought in by Dolf te Lintelo (ARF6 project ‘Public Authority and Legitimacy Making’), the ARF6 projects discussed the challenges which arise when a project is faced with the question whether and how to work with proscribed organisations, an issue which is increasingly relevant for projects in the Security and Rule of Law research programme. Projects discussed both the ethical as well as practical questions: Can we still conduct research on this stakeholder? Are there risks in being associated with this stakeholder, even if it is clear that we do not support them in any way (i.e. reputational risks)? And what does it mean for conducting research in general – can researchers still conduct research in areas where proscribed organisations operate, or on these organisations (what is the role of the research community)? This issue was certainly not resolved during this session. However, the participants acknowledged the importance of sharing experiences related to this issue, and proposed to discuss this further with more stakeholders – including funders.

Joint discussion on results framework

The afternoon session was organised by the Knowledge Platform Security and Rule of Law (KPSRL), in close collaboration with NWO-WOTRO and the MFA. During this session, ARF6 project representatives and policy officers of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs critically reflected on three discussion points related to both the projects and the results framework of the Department for Stabilisation and Humanitarian Aid (DSH):

  1. Legitimacy Impact: External interventions inevitably impact power dynamics and local authorities’ legitimacy. Is it possible to maintain conflict sensitivity, or to prepare for the effects this has on conflict dynamics? How could the Results Framework reflect this better?
  2. The ‘Informal’ Conundrum: If the ultimate aim is to contribute to ‘legitimate stability’, what needs to be considered when deciding whether to engage non-state SRoL actors?
  3. What evidence has been accumulated that could either support or provoke questions about the assumptions underpinning the outcomes and indicators of the Results Framework?

The starting point of the discussions were the (preliminary) findings and insights of the research projects, which shed a light on the dynamics of legitimation processes which are taking place in practise. This resulted in an open and engaging exchange between the research teams and the policy officers from the MFA, resulting in practical critiques and feedback, but also several conceptual-level discussions.

Legitimacy Impact

One such conceptual discussion took place in a session on the first discussion point: legitimacy impact. The ARF6 researchers pointed out that there were conceptual differences between top-down and bottom-up legitimacy, as well as between viewing legitimacy based on service delivery versus legitimacy based on moral and value-related notions. However, the results framework has its own conceptual frame with regards to legitimacy, whereby the assumption is that local authorities, who are ‘closer to the citizens’, are inherently the ‘legitimate’ actors. This is often not the case if viewed from the local perspective. One representative of the MFA acknowledged the importance of understanding the conceptual background of legitimate stability when implementing the results framework. In this session the idea arose to not only screen interventions on conflict sensitivity (which is widely done in the field of SRoL), but also to pay special attention to whether an intervention is “legitimacy-sensitive” as well.

Informal conundrum

A similar suggestion on the importance of ‘legitimacy-sensitivity’ came up in session 2 on the ‘informal conundrum’. In this discussion consensus arose that, when determining who to engage with, it is essential to

  • understand the local power and legitimacy dynamics – preferably from a historical perspective,
  • take into account formal legal structures,
  • employ, a 'do no harm approach’ and include periodic conflict assessments.

Stakeholders implementing activities in FCAS should be equipped to make such an assessment beforehand, but also periodic assessments at the implementation level should be able to regularly update funders and implementers about the role local partners are actually playing.

A more elaborate document on the discussions which took place, as well as the findings and suggestions which followed, will be made available as soon as possible.

Source: NWO