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Democracy and Governance Innovations in Fragile Contexts: Promising Practices and Recommended Policy Changes

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Democracy and governance (D&G) deficits — particularly weak state capacity, accountability, and legitimacy; exclusion or marginalization of population groups; and weak civic engagement — are drivers of fragility, conflict and violence (FCV). D&G assistance to address these drivers — and foreign policies that promote democratic, inclusive and responsive institutions — increase state capacity and accountability, and build good governance. These vital investments can help resolve the democracy and governance gaps and grievances that drive chronic fragility. Building state accountability, effectiveness, and legitimacy, alongside citizen engagement and inclusion, must therefore be part of any pathway from fragility to development.

However, traditional approaches to democracy and governance programming face unique challenges in FCV settings. Volatile and unpredictable contexts, difficulty identifying actors to work with, and challenges in defining and measuring success mean that approaches used in non-fragile settings may not have the same impact in FCV contexts. This paper argues that the field of democracy and governance interventions must therefore adapt to apply more usefully to fragile contexts, and surfaces examples of promising innovations.

From June to October 2019, eight organizations who work on democracy and governance in fragile places convened to identify innovative practices and supportive policy changes. Collectively, we work in 129 countries globally and in 54 of the 58 countries on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Development Assistance Committee (OECD/DAC) list of FCV contexts. This convening intentionally brought together ‘traditional’ democracy and governance organizations who have historically focused on elections, institutional strengthening, political parties, and civil society with development and humanitarian organizations who have approached governance work through community mobilization, peacebuilding, and multi-sectoral programming.

This paper presents our findings, along with recommendations for bilateral donors, multilateral institutions, and practitioners.

Progress on democracy and governance in the world’s most challenging environments will require donors and practitioners to pair smart investments in democracy and governance programming with foreign policy that disrupts the development-diplomacy disconnect and creates an enabling environment for stabilization and innovation.