Innovative Approaches to Security and Justice Programming By: Isabella Flisi | SSR | Mar 14, 2016

The Overseas Development Insitute (ODI) hosted a series of seminars to discuss key conceptual and practical issues related to security and justice programming. The series was held in 2014 and 2015 and hosted international experts on several security related issues. The events promoted debates and knowledge sharing that aim to increase the practice and the programming in the security sector.


The Security and Justice seminar series provided the opportunity for regular meetings among the security and justice community of practice, helping to build stronger connections, relationships and shared knowledge, in turn supporting better programming. The seminars served to promote knowledge and information sharing relevant to security and justice policy, programming and research.

The initiative brought together practitioners, policy makers and researchers involved in the fields of security, policing, justice, rule of law and military security. Attendees included representatives from government agencies, implementing partners, individual consultants, NGOs, research institutes and universities.

This article provide a short summary of two out of the six conferences.

(Editor’s Note: This contribution provides a useful summary of a key research theme for the SSR Resource Centre and the Centre for Security Governance, and we believe this summary is a useful primer to innovative approaches to security and justice programming and 2nd generation security sector reform.)

A political approach to security and justice programming

ODI held its first seminar in the Security and justice seminar series in May 2014. Dr. Andrew Rathmell, from the University of Exeter, was the guest speaker and he explored how politically-informed programming can be operationalized. As a starting point Dr. Rathmell points out that among academics, practitioners and policy makers there is agreement that security and justice (S & J) programming needs to be political. However, incorporating a political approach can be quite difficult. The conference explored some practical ways where political approaches can be effectively incorporated providing examples of common challenges and how to move forward. The two assumptions on which Dr. Rathmell based is argument are two emerging conventional wisdoms: a) the need to be political in programming and b) the need to reform S&J in fragile states.

Dr. Rathmel looked at the successes and failures of S&J programming, providing experience based examples. Among the failures he highlights certain interventions that supported repression. Dr. Rathmell illustrated the common delivery problems that have been identified in trying to act more politically within S&J Programmes. Firstly, the quality of understanding is key in order to have a sound knowledge of the interventions. For instance, there is sometimes the tendency to jump to a policing solution as a a default template too quickly. Secondly, a common problem is the tendency to take a template and importing it, ignoring important contextual nuances. Thirdly, there is a tendency to act rather than think. Good thinking should not be deprioritized. Finally, the last problem is related to ‘technocratic solutions’.

Dr. Rathmell continued by explaining the idea of Isomorphic Mimicry - a biological phenomenon whereby one organism makes itself look like another. Applying this idea to the S&J world means that there might be value in encouraging an institution to behave like a working institution. He mentioned that the literature provides evidence that “if a police force, or a military or a court system takes on board certain norms or behaviours, certain systems and procedures there is a chance that it may actually overtime begin to act in accordance with those norms, systems and processes because not to do so will create increasing cognitive dissonance between what is supposed to do on paper and what it actually does on practice.” However, the problem remains as the mimicry might be mistaken for genuine reform. Consequently, more needs to be done to embed changes that are fit for purpose and context rather than transposed from elsewhere.

Dr. Rathmell also highlighted key emerging knowledge and tools that might be useful for S&J. For instance, applying complexity theory to a limited extent in certain situations can add value to the intervention. Also, behavioural economics applied to public policy is beginning to have an impact. The application of social sciences in this area could be very useful, yet we have only seen limited and partial focus on this. Emerging tools such as integrated approaches, systems dynamic modelling, analytical tools, Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) adaptive management and campaign design can all be experimented with more.

Finally, Dr. Rathmell presented a model he developed on how security and justice sector institutions work. As a conclusion he suggested that “to have an institution functioning effectively to deliver S&J we need to align a number of things. We need to align capabilities, incentives and politics.

Doing security and justice sector reform differently: what, why and how?

In March 2015, ODI organized a conference on ‘Doing security and justice sector reform differently: what, why and how?’ The guest speakers were Deborah Mansfield, Team leader of the Legal Assistance for Economic Reform (LASER) and Sarah Callaghan, LASER Resident Advisor in the Ministry of Justice, Rwanda.

LASER is a three-year (2014-2017) programme which works in eight countries, including fragile and conflict affected states (FCAS), working closely with the governments in each of those countries. LASER aims to improve the investment climate in developing countries by helping their governments to identify and solve commercial law and justice problems, and by documenting and sharing lessons learned about how to do this.

Deborah Mansfield highlighted that the key process for working politically and doing development differently is an iterative approach. This means not only learning by taking risks, but also learning from failure and adapting and responding productively. One of the characteristics of LASER´s approach is maintaining flexibility through a high level strategic log frame and a flexible results framework and using tools that are ‘best fit not best practice’.  She also discussed that it is important to focus on the process itself, especially when working with partners. In relation to security and justice programming, a few key obstacles are the aversion to taking risks and the inability to accept failure.

Sarah Callaghan explained the use of a toll that they have developed to record the iterative process called the problem diary. This monitoring tool records the process of problem identification and the process to solve and address them. This tool is very helpful to show changes that were unanticipated, opportunities previously unidentified and most importantly, it allows the project managers to adapt and respond in real time to the programming cycle. The problem diary allows headquarters and donors to have a deeper contextual understanding.

Along those lines, Deborah Mansfield talked about the flexible result framework they use at LASER. It is composed of one high level log frame and different country specific log frames called ‘nested log frame’, that is also used as part of the overall programme log frame. This model is “at the same specific, rigorous and very flexible.”

Finally, Deborah Mansfield mentioned that “if you start with a problem centred approach and use iterative way of working to actually dig deep into a problem and develop solutions, then priorities will emerge. It is just a matter to be given time.”


ODI’s Security and justice seminar series has been key in promoting information sharing on the most recent issues of security sector and inspiring the debate around the challenges of programming and implementation. The initiative grappled with the challenge for the security and justice sectors in fragile and conflict-affected states exploring the best practices and the some of the most recent innovative approaches.

Isabella Flisi holds a Master Degree in International Cooperation and BA in Anthropology from the University of Bologna, Italy. She is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Ulster, School of law, Transitional Justice Institute. Prior to pursuing her PhD Isabella worked with different international organizations in the fields of human rights and gender based violence in Colombia for six years.