Ten Tips - How to be a good SSR Adviser when working with national actors

by Gordon Hughes · July 27th, 2011.

I have been inspired reading Janine Rauch’s blog on 10 tips;to improve donor coordination in the field.

For the past 15 years I have found myself in a number of countries, mostly African, working as an adviser to ministers, senior government officials and chiefs of defence.  My work has spanned across national infrastructure development, defence transformation, conflict prevention and a variety of SSR initiatives. 

When I first started as an adviser I quickly realized that to be effective (and survive)  I would have to build relationships and networks, and at the same time cope with the challenges of planning transformation pathways forward within politically and culturally sensitive contexts. So, the tips offered here have been gathered from personal experience, best practice, and seeing at first hand the common challenges faced by new advisors on the ground who aren’t sure where to start!

The tips below are elaborated on in ISSAT’s Operational Guidance Note ‘The Security and Justice Sector Reform Advisor’.

  1. Get to know your principal national counterpart and interlocutors on both a personal and professional level. Build trust and confidence at every opportunity.
  2. Seek to provide solutions and options rather than problems and obstacles. Become a valuable source of experience, expertise and knowledge.
  3. Spend the early weeks and months of your assignment proactively building networks.  Then extend your networks.
  4. Do not seek the limelight or recognition. Promote success for your national counterparts.
  5. Deliver advice in its proper context and at the right level. Seek to be consistent and maintain confidentiality.
  6. Be sensitive to culture and traditions. Listen actively. This may mean that you do not offer advice without a request during the first few months of your assignment.
  7. Do what is right for your Host Government and beware of responding too quickly to the call for rapid results from your own Government.
  8. Be flexible. Identify and respond to new windows of opportunity.
  9. Get close to the point of delivery and decision making. Co-locate with your national counterpart if possible.
  10. Maintain continuity in the delivery of advice. A rapid turn-over of advisers can lead to “advising fatigue” by national actors. For tour lengths – longer is better. The minimum should be one year; two years is about right.
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