Moving Forward Together

  December 12, 2015

Improving Citizen Security with Constructive Conversations

Ray Shonholtz, the founder of Partners for Democratic Change (Partners), once told me that the majority of our work is about having ‘adult conversations’. But, what exactly did he mean by this? Ray explained in a way that only Ray could; “Partners’ role as a facilitator of conversations among leaders tackling complex public policy challenges and addressing major conflicts in their communities, would require the ability to listen actively and support constructive problem solving, with techniques such as the ‘yes, and’ approach.” While sometimes difficult and counter-intuitive, the “yes, and approach” requires acknowledgement of multiple perspectives on the same issue without discounting any of them.

Since 2010, we at Partners alongside our colleagues at Partners West Africa have been exploring ways in which to utilize this approach specifically for addressing challenges in the emerging security governance field. This past month, we put some of our ideas to the test with our colleagues from Campaign for Good Governance (CGG) in Sierra Leone and CLEEN Foundation in Nigeria. With the support of the Global Peace and Development Charitable Trust and National Endowment for Democracy, we assembled diverse civil society groups, public servants and uniformed leaders to discuss issues of security governance, accountability and performance in both countries. We focused on four key ideas:

Creating a Shared Vocabulary — Gone are the days of working in isolation to tackle security challenges. All actors recognize the necessity of working together. But just how and from what basis they can collaborate is not always entirely clear. To help address this challenge Partners created the Security: Governance, Accountability and Performance (SGAP) Toolkit. The toolkit includes a Framework and Guide designed to aid assessment and dialogue around security governance issues.

Developing Opportunities for In-Group Consultation — Civil society is not a monolith and neither is the security sector. There are a wide range of opinions and perspectives across these groups that require negotiation before they can successfully enter into dialogue with one another. For example, our partner in Mexico, Centro de Colaboracion Civica (CCC), designed a program to help galvanize diverse civil society organizations (CSOs) to work with the Mexican government on common citizen security issues. This approach helped leaders identify their shared interests, minimize infighting amongst the CSOs and presented a more united voice to the government.

Supporting Leadership — Leaderless movements for institutional change are a fallacy. This is particularly true when it comes to reforming how a security sector operates. There are always winners and losers as power is constrained and redistributed. Reforms require political leadership and support that empowers reformers to make decisions that can lead to change in the system. Leaders who can bring about change can be found both inside and outside the system.

Facilitating Dialogue Opportunities based on Shared Interests — Identifying shared interests can be a challenging exercise. Using the SGAP Framework, it is possible to identify interests and develop momentum for a constructive conversation. By first building on an assessment of how well a security system is operating in a given country, the dialogue would require skilled facilitators to help leaders focus on their shared interests and identify areas for improvement that can be tackled together.

Teresa Crawford discusses security reform in Sierra Leone

Teresa Crawford discusses security reform in Sierra Leone

Putting SGAP to the test

In both Sierra Leone and Nigeria, the Partners team facilitated consultations and dialogue among leaders from civil society, the public sector and the security sector. Starting from the SGAP Framework, which consists of 27 areas for reform, each stakeholder group was tasked with identifying the top ten issues for reform in their countries. From these groups, a top ten-priority list was developed, shared and presented to all participants. Everyone was then assigned to small groups that included representatives from each stakeholder group, where they discussed the top ten issues and identified their top five. Over the course of a day together, the participants delved deeper into the complexities around one particular priority.

Taking action with SGAP in Nigeria

Nigeria's Top Ten Security Priorities

Nigeria’s Top Ten Security Priorities

In Nigeria, one senior uniformed leader identified, prioritized and worked on the issue of Civilian Engagement and Participation. From his insider perspective, he shared that each department in the military follows different rules and regulations that guide their interaction with civil society. Without a shared set of guidance and principles, how does one improve engagement with civilians? His group brainstormed ways to bridge the divide to improve citizens’ awareness of their responsibility for national security. They agreed that citizens must see uniformed and non-uniformed personnel as approachable and as part of the security system. This dialogue helped to develop some potential action-oriented next steps to address the issue, including:

  • Organizing regular public awareness campaigns on key security challenges to improve understanding and reduce misperceptions;
  • Where appropriate, involve citizens in military activities, such as extending vacancy to CSOs to participate in some of these exercises;
  • Declassify ‘rules of engagement’ so people know that the rules, guiding operations and personnel exist and that those in uniform are not just acting on their own wishes;

“Forums like this should be regular and should include more people and representation.” — Nigerian SGAP participant


Leaders from Sierra Leone prioritize security concerns.

Collaborating with the Security Sector and Civil Society in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone’s Top 10 Security Priorities

In Sierra Leone one of the top priorities identified by participants were the issues of adequacy of the Independent Review and Monitoring Mechanisms, and Police Effectiveness. The discussion surrounding this concern opened up an opportunity for collaboration between CSOs and the Independent Police Complaints Board (IPCB). A newly formed institution with limited resources, the IPCB Board struggles with informing the public about its role and engaging citizens who file complaints. Nonetheless, the Board as a whole is seen as legitimate and accepted by the Police. Therefore, they have the mandate to investigate allegations of abuse of citizens by the police. With a collaborative leader at the helm, Chair of the Council Mr. Valentine Collier, CGG will build on the connections made during the SGAP dialogue to work with the IPCB in the coming year to engage in outreach to CSOs. Aimed at increasing knowledge on how the IPCB operates, the outreach will also include public awareness campaigns in communities with the highest levels of police mistrust. Together, the IPCB and CGG will form an inclusive CSO advisory group, which will help serve as a sounding board as the IPCB formulates their strategy, while also providing the necessary external support for their activities.

The balance between empowerment and constraint for reform

Partners is not alone in applying collaborative approaches to tackling security challenges. Other international organizations, including the United States Institute of Peace and the Alliance for Peacebuilding are also working together to produce great tools for improving security, such as the Justice and Security Dialogue: A New Tool for Peacebuilders toolkit; and the Civil-Military-Police Handbook and Curriculum on Human Security: Community engagement and Security Sector Development guide.

With these tools at our disposal, we must continue to work together and focus more attention on the growing, integrated field of security governance. How do we empower our security sectors to play their vital and necessary role in protecting citizens and the assets of the state, while at the same time constrain their action to ensure it conforms to human rights norms and the rule of law? How can we empower civil society with the knowledge, skills and abilities to represent constituents and engage in the reform process? How can we support civilian leadership in the Executive, Judicial and Legislative branches of government to play their proper oversight and accountability role? How can we engage with uniformed security actors to perform their duties effectively under civilian leadership and with adherence to human rights norms and the rule of law?

There are many questions and challenges ahead for those working to improve the performance of security sectors around the world. However as our funder and supporter John DeBlasio, Executive Director of the GPD Charitable Trust stated:

“Investing in the SGAP was an investment to assist the current security assistant programs. Our hope is that by creating an open architecture tool for others to adopt, we can fundamentally change the way security assistance programs are run.”

As Partners continues to work with our colleagues in Sierra Leone and Nigeria, we look forward to continuing having successful conversations that start with “yes, and”