Commentary 2017-05-19T08:39:17+00:00

Ideas you can use.

Independent commentary on current challenges and innovations in fragile states.

Here is a selection of writing and multi-media content that I’ve authored or co-authored over the years. If you have trouble accessing anything please let me know and I’ll try to help out.

How to get decisions on the tough questions, more often

Policy-making for fragile states is ridden with uncertainty, risk, and conflicting values. In this article I set out some principles for a robust decision process, to give you the maximum possible chances of getting clarity on key questions. Draws on comparative experience from both inter-governmental and Cabinet decision-making.

Rethink Fragility podcast: Managing under pressure

An extended interview with Tariq Riebel, who has led humanitarian ‘surge’ teams in pretty much every major crisis of the last decade. He reflects on how he got started, what keeps him going, and what holds back performance in emergency response. A powerful reminder of the values that underpin effective work in fragile states.

Searching for a niche: the UN in the Republic of Guinea

Chapter in an edited volume entitled ‘UN peacebuilding architecture: the first 10 years’. A post-mortem of the UN’s role in Guinea’s democratic transition – and how the world organisation found itself stuck between the traditional model of government-to-government partnership, and demands to be more inclusive and proactive.

Be more inclusive now: Steps to bring more stakeholders to the table

A long-fom article for Rethink Fragility, on what ‘inclusivity’ looks like for those doing stabilisation, peacekeeping, or similarly politicised tasks. I set out a three-step health-check for major policy initiatives, drawing on work in Sri Lanka, Sudan and the DRC, and suggest how to identify steps forward.

Video seminar series: How stabilisation failed in the Congo

Ten-minute online talks, watchable in coffee breaks, on how international efforts went awry in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. An open-access version of presentations given to a range of government departments and think tanks over the course of 2015-16, for anybody who cares about the Congo.

From Brahimi to the HIPPO: UN peacekeeping as a learning organisation

A paper for the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, on how UN peacekeeping handled its explosive growth from 2000-15. This required learning how to execute unfamiliar new tasks in a dozen different countries, under immense political pressure. Focus on takeaways for other institutions such as the African Union.

If you’re blaming “coordination”, you’re missing the real problem

A long-form article for Rethink Fragility, on our constant invocation of organisational silos as the main barrier to effective strategy. I draw on mainstream public policy thinking to argue that we have unrealistic expectations for what can be achieved through discussion, and thus for what ‘good-enough’ integration looks like.

Podcast: Rethinking Engagement With Fragile States

Featured guest on episode #1 of the Trendlines podcast for World Politics Review. My exchange with host Peter Dorrie starts at 21:00, with me arguing for a ‘better, more sane approach’ in fragile states (his words!). A lot of fun Congo and Afghanistan facts in this one.

Redefining Success: New Approaches to Engaging With Fragile States

There is a yawning gap between between what we’ve repeatedly said that we would do in fragile states, and the actual results. This long-form article for World Politics Review tries to redefine what achievable outcomes could look like, anchored in a careful study of history and geography.

Has the development sector lost its way on agile management?

A critical comment on the recent trend for ‘adaptive’ and ‘iterative’ approaches in the development sector. I argue that practitioners have borrowed the language of Agile product development while dropping one of its core premises—closeness to the customer. This leaves us prone to elite-captured, and politically unworkable, thinking.

Q&A: Five lessons from the Congo’s instability

An interview with the International Peace Institute. I focus on how we can unpack the brute fact that ‘stabilisation’ failed in contexts the DRC or South Sudan, into lessons that are more tractable and can inform policy-making. This, in turn, requires understanding where our mental models come from.

Poor man’s COIN: On counter-insurgency in fragile states

The counter-insurgency thinking that emerged over the course of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is drastically incomplete, because it relies so heavily on the perspectives of rich, Western countries. I draw on a range of African and South Asian cases to suggest how to strengthen the foundations.