Managing the transition from police support to a sector-wide approach in Sierra Leone


Following agreement in 2005, DFID was faced with the challenge of successfully managing the transition in Sierra Leone from a programme of support primarily focused on the police to a broader approach engaging other government departments, the judiciary, and non-state actors in the informal justice sector. This significant challenge was not managed particularly well, which impacted negatively on progress made in sensitising the police to the change in approach to justice sector development.

Entry point

The entry point should have been the finalisation of the Justice Sector Development Programme documentation itself (the planning for a system-wide reform programme). Those engaged in the established Commonwealth Safety and Security Programme (CSSP — the programme focused on police reform) should have been tasked with developing an exit strategy complementary to the inception phase of the Justice Sector Development Programme. While the latter programme produced a
“migration document” to manage the transition from their perspective, none was forthcoming from the CSSP management. The Sierra Leone Police were thus only provided with limited support to assist them in the change of thinking required for a sector-wide approach.

Lessons learned

Effective management of change is vital within donor agencies — The challenges outlined occurred during DFID’s devolution process from London to Freetown. Given large staff turnover and the challenges of office transition, a short-term approach to programmatic transition occurred. Before embarking on any change to the status quo, it is important to identify the risks such a change poses, as well as mitigating measures to reduce the impacts of spoilers. That did not occur in this instance, though the error was rectified upon devolution through ensuring that both the security and justice programmes were brought under the authority of one programme manager.

The importance of effective communication — In any environment unused to enacting change, effective communication to all stakeholders at each stage of the change process is critical. Broadening any programme from a focus on one institution to an entire sector is bound to entail shifts in approach, and there will be some perceived winners and losers. Informing all stakeholders of the need for this change — and of their role in relation to it — at an early stage is vital, if local ownership is to occur and other donors are to be able to factor the step change into their own programmatic processes.


The failure to address the difficulties of transition led to significant differences within DFID and within the international community more broadly as to the role of the police in Sierra Leone. Entrenched positions developed as to whether the police should be viewed as having primary responsibility for security, or whether they should be embraced as part of the justice community. The answer is both, but a weak migration plan between two discrete programmes encouraged these conceptual differences to take root.


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