SSR and local ownership - policy vs practice

15/05/2017 @ 15:53
by Ronnie Bradford

I was  interested to read and re-read many of the documents relating to Local Ownership, published in this week's Digest. I wrote a Masters dissertation on this subject a few years ago which looked at the particular case of SSR in Somaliland, where I continue to work. But I was disappointed not to find some discussion or advice on the main difficulty of applying the principle of local ownership in practice: if a programme of SSR is genuinely locally-owned (by the authorities and communities of a state which is in need of SSR), it will inevitably differ from many "international norms" and from the ideas of donors or international partners. The locals will have their own views and make their own decisions, so the pace, direction and nature of SSR will be theirs and different. In practice this means:

- Locally-owned SSR is slow, modest, imperfect and individual, evolving as the locals gain in capability and experience, but also perhaps more likely to be sustainable and capable of delivering improved security.

- The right opportunities for the external involvement in SSR are in a supporting and influencing role, with a focus on individual and institutional capacity building to enable the local owners to do their job better. There may be a place for external partners in areas of particular weakness. But decisions on the scale, direction, content and pace of reform must remain in the hands of locals, for locals and according to local conditions and standards – however this may look and feel to donors and partners.

- The value and necessity of programing and M&E in the typical western approach to SSR is dubious. An evolutionary approach, where the locals select the most important areas to improve in iterations, is often sufficiently successful and appropriate to the limited resources and changing circumstances of a fragile state. M&E should also be evolutionary: each small step making the overall security situation better than it was before, in the eyes of the locals. 

Of course, this poses a problem for donors and partners. How many are prepared to indulge locals in running a slow, modest, imperfect and evolutionary programme of SSR, when their own systems of management require clearly defined interventions with specified and scheduled deliverables? Over the last few years I have looked in vain for some discussion on this aspect to which I could contribute and from which I could learn. Any ideas?

Ronnie Bradford

09/06/2017 @ 15:18
by Ronnie Bradford

Dear David,

How nice to hear from you. Sorry to take time to reply, but I have been busy with other things. Thank you for your wise thoughts expressed, as ever, with deceptive clarity. I am certainly with you on regarding SSR as more of a process which we can help than the application of norms. Though that thought does not help with my original question of how to get donors and partners to agree to work which does not fit a western style management plan, log frame etc. I suspect the answer is to try to keep some distance between the practitioners and the managers! I have, of course, passed several copies of your book to Somaliland officials and officers. Recently, I have found copies well thumbed and passed on to other officers. So thank you also for that. 

best wishes, Ronnie

09/06/2017 @ 15:26
by Ronnie Bradford

Dear Jim,

Thank you of three clear, simple rules (a rarity!). I think we are applying these already. The harder thing is trying to get new local suggestions for action to fit back into the approved "plan" for work. Clever wording of the "plan", which sounds sufficiently specific but is also flexible, is important. As you suggest, one should follow local proposals unless criminal or dishonest. To your rules, I might add a fourth: To be prepared for work not delivering the intended outcome and to accept that learning by doing (not necessarily achieving) may be sufficient. 

best wishes, Ronnie

17/06/2017 @ 13:48
by Alwin van den Boogaard

Ronnie thanks for opening this discussion. I would like to add some of my experiences gained during the SSR process in Burundi. A process in which I participated for nearly 9 years.

While reading the other reactions, and certainly the ones about norms, I wondered whether to me SSR is about norms or more about how to use principles of good governance within the entire spectrum of the security sector. For me SSR is about opening a discussion about these principles, explaining their added value and trying to start having a discussion between the concerned state and non-state institutions and people involved so they can elaborate together on how these principles can be of benefit for them given their specific context, culture and situation. Once the discussions start delivering results the direction in which, according to them, the SSR process should go will become clear. As the end of the discussions will be a mixture of cultural/ contextual (political) elements and the principles of good governance there is no way one can predict the outcome of the discussions. The only thing which is predictable is the fact that the outcomes of the discussions will be unique and will differ from which the international community was thinking of. The more this discussion is pushed into a "ready to implement" donor solution the less it will fit and accordingly the feeling of ownership will reduce so will the probability of sustainability.

I learned that the feeling of ownership or the reasons to participate within the SSR process is based on 3 main questions: can I understand the process, can I influence the process and will I benefit from changes within the process? These questions assisted us in finding ways so the progressive nature of ownership was able to grow.

Understanding the SSR process was done by putting an enormous effort in explaining the process to all kinds of institutions (state and non-state) and civil society organisations. Most of the technical trainings delivered included a one day training of SSR, whatever technical training was delivered. There were 1 day crash-courses SSR for 20 participants just on 1 condition: the participants needed to come from several organisations (state and non-state). I cannot recall one demand for SSR training to be denied.

In the beginning the majority of the SSR trainings were delivered by the international staff. Gradually we performed the trainings together and at the end the SSR trainings were delivered by the Burundian members of the program. The SSR-1 course of ISSAT was translated into Kirundi. From this we learned that the discussions during the training went deeper and were more context oriented than during trainings delivered by international staff.

For people to influence the SSR process there needs to be understanding of the process but also people need to be sure that they can speak up and give their opinion. Trust between participants is needed, however trust between security organisations and civil society is difficult to find in a post-conflict country like Burundi. In post-conflict there are a lot of emotions which have to be pronounced. The first meetings did not occur in a very calm atmosphere. But gradually the emotions disappeared and the discussions became more subject-oriented.

Influencing a process includes the necessity to be in a position to decide. As ownership is progressive and as ownership is a process in itself the structure and the way the program is staffed should adapt accordingly. We changed our program structure several times and the (limited) international staff obtained gradually less important positions. So you need to have staff who accept to step down.

Not only the structure and staffing need to be flexible but also the contents of the SSR program. The program needs to be flexible and adaptive so the results of the discussions around SSR can be exploited. And in order to be able to show the results of the program the M/E system needs to be process oriented.

No need to say that this takes time. But if you would like the SSR process to be sustainable you need time.