Evidence synthesis: security sector reform and organisational capacity building

Research reports and studies
July 2016
Lisa Denney and Craig Valters

Capacity building constitutes a core component of many development programmes, including security sector reform (SSR), and is central to efforts to improve the delivery of citizen security in an effective, responsive and accountable manner. Yet, while much has been written about SSR, including critiques of its effectiveness, understandings of ‘capacity’ and ‘capacity building’ remain under-explored and it remains unclear to what extent capacity building interventions have led to improved security outcomes.

This synthesis involved the review of 215 studies compiled by the Governance and Social Development Research Centre’s SSR database, supplemented by studies recommended by five SSR experts. Each study was graded to assess overall evidence and relevance to the research questions. A total of 149 studies were found to be of moderate to high relevance and were drawn on in developing the findings.

This synthesis recommends that:

  • Specific monitoring and evaluation of the research questions under examination here should be required of all security and justice programmes to help build an evidence base about what does and does not work in this field.
  • Research should be commissioned to explore the concepts of capacity and capacity building within SSR, including questions around whose capacity needs to be built, in what ways this is most effectively done, by whom, at what level, for how long, etc.
  • Given that capacity deficits are often not the only, or the primary, blockage preventing improved security, further research and pilot programming could usefully explore how capacity building fits within wider programming approaches that attempt to tackle issues such as lack of incentives for change, political deprioritisation, politicisation of reform targets, etc.

It is however also noted that further research and monitoring will only be helpful if it leads to improved donor behaviour; an important question remains as to why improved behaviour has not resulted from lessons learnt previously. There are also internal issues that donor organisations must address in order for changes in practice to take place. Considering the political economy of donor organisations – their constraints, their own domestic interests – is thus also critical if we are to move towards more evidence-based capacity building within SSR.

This research is an output of the United Kingdom's Department for International Development and hosted on the Research for Development (R4D) website.