The Policy and Operations Evaluation Department (IOB) of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) has evaluated the Dutch foreign policy in fragile states from the period 2005 – 2011. The resulting evaluation, “Investing in stability: Dutch policy on fragile states reviewed”, available since October 2013, has brought to the fore a number of specific challenges for improving the implementation of Dutch foreign policy in fragile and conflict-affected states. In its responsorial Letter to Parliament (14 October 2013), the government reflects upon the IOB’s recommendations, and notes the important role The Knowledge Platform could play in in facilitating among its range of partners an exchange of views on the evaluation’s findings.
The Knowledge Platform Security & Rule of Law has initiated a series of events dedicated to the IOB Evaluation. The purpose of this first event was to discuss among policy makers, practitioners and academics the possible responses to the IOB evaluation findings. In consultation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Knowledge Platform’s Steering Group, a limited number of specific issues were identified for this discussion:
Theories of Change: The IOB evaluation notes that, without an explicit “Theory of Change” to guide Dutch engagement in fragile contexts, aspects of Dutch fragile state policy have implicitly adopted a neoliberal paradigm. This approach risks acting on assumptions without sufficient critical reflection and neglecting current theories and insights that could contribute to a more scientifically robust policy. On the other hand – as noted in the Letter to Parliament – Dutch fragile states policy aspires to remain flexible and context specific, and it is debateable whether building a single, encompassing Theory of Change is feasible or could be usefully applied across multiple, complex scenarios and states.
Context analysis: The MFA welcomed the IOB’s recommendations to continue deepening its analytical capacity and, in so doing, strengthens its relationships with external partners. What appears critical now is not necessarily the acquisition of context knowledge, which the MFA and its partners have worked to strengthen in recent years. Rather, the current challenge centres on the incisive and useful application of context analysis in stability programming and policy. For example, context knowledge is essential for continually critiquing our own policies and their underlying assumptions. It will be useful to explore how context knowledge can be/is applied in this way across different fields of work.
09:30 | Welcome and opening | Jeroen de Lange
- Introduction Dutch Foreign Policy Fragile States 2005 – 2011 | Mr. Ronald Wormgoor, Stabilization and Humanitarian Aid Department of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- Presentation IOB Evaluation | Mr. Geert Geut, Deputy Head of Policy and Operations Evaluation Department of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (IOB)
10:00 | Panel discussion | moderation Jeroen de Lange
‘’How do practitioners, policy makers and researchers apply – or are hindered from applying – context knowledge and current research to inform our Theories of Change for effective engagement and promoting stability in fragile states?’’
- Mr. Geert Geut | Deputy Head IOB
- Mrs. Julia McCall | Researcher IOB
- Dr. Willemijn Verkoren | Head of the Centre for International Conflict Analysis and Management
- Mr. Chris Underwood | Senior Policy Advisor International Alert UK
11:30 | Break out sessions: Exploring specific challenges identified in the IOB Evaluation Report
- ‘’Theories of Change as a Critical Reflection of Foreign Policy in Fragile States’’: A theory of change can help make explicit the underlying assumptions on which engagement is based, thereby exposing these assumptions to critique. But does this actually happen in practice? If so, how? If not, why not?
- ‘’Science meets Foreign Policy Fragile States’’: What current research is particularly relevant for critiquing or revising Dutch fragile state policy? Could these current discussions be more directly addressed in Dutch fragile states policy? If so, how?
- ‘’Complexity in Fragility’’: Given the dynamic and complex character of many fragile states; is it possible or even useful to come up with a “Theory of Change” for Dutch fragile state policy?
12:30 | Plenary presentation of break out sessions & closing remarks | Jeroen de Lange
13:00 | Lunch reception