Crowd sourcing models of fragility

States of fragilityJolanda Profos, OECD Development Co-operation Directorate

The OECD’s new report States of Fragility 2015: Meeting Post-2015 Ambitions addresses the substantial challenges of defining – and classifying – fragility. The report proposes a multidimensional approach to the concept of `fragility’, rather than using a simple one-dimensional list. It argues that breaking down concepts of fragility into various dimensions can enable better understanding of the causes and drivers of fragility, thereby informing a better response.

The idea of moving to a deeper and more substantive way of analysing fragility has gripped the imagination of many of those who work on the issues. The short chapter of the report that deals with this topic has generated more feedback than any other, encouraging a thoughtful and also thought-provoking debate, including an interesting piece from Frauke De Weijer.

The multidimensional model put forward by the report is based on five dimensions taken from the proposals for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), each measured against three indicators that serve as proxy measures of those issues, in the absence of agreed SDG indicators. Yet some argue that the Sustainable Development Goals model that was used lacks a clear enough social dimension, or that the model used in the report should have been more closely framed around the New Deal’s Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Goals (PSGs). Frauke suggests that there must be better ways of capturing external stresses and avoiding unintended consequences. Duncan Green, on the other hand, warns of the risks of overloading the models with almost every issue under the sun.

All told, the debate reflects an emerging recognition that what the report is trying to do is clearly not simple. The specific datasets used can make a difference in the perspective that is captured on the issues.

This is where the challenge becomes both intriguing and acute. Measuring conflict and fragility is not the same thing as measuring, say, the height of a wall; evidence tells us that not only what, but how you measure matters, and that it matters a lot. This is why agreeing on a model for tracking fragility is nightmarishly difficult, and why debate around it is extremely important.

Say you include an index on corruption that measures administrative corruption (as most perception studies do) and somebody else uses a measure that is based on proxies for grand corruption – do they have the same relevance for levels of fragility? Work on fragility and corruption suggests that the answer is a clear “no”. Different types of corruption and (crucially) how they are organised may have different effects. Equally, there are differences if your measure of violence is primarily focused on urban youth homicide versus political violence: the relationship of the violence to the political system is inevitably not the same.

The 2016 States of Fragility report will further revise the model for measuring fragility, dropping the idea of a simple list by 2017 at the latest, and moving to tracking resources flows to fragile states through a multi-dimensional lens. The idea is to focus attention on the need to support states and societies as they move from fragility toward resilience, holding all actors to account for their commitments.  That responding to fragility requires not only for aid to become smarter, but also for much broader changes.

The information in these reports is a public good. Deciding what the model contains should, therefore, reflect the needs of all those engaging with issues of conflict and fragility. We welcome debate on the nature of the model as an essential part of the process.

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OECD work on governance and peace

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