Watering the roots of good governance

Restoring core government functions in the immediate aftermath of crises

November 10, 2018


When you think of crisis contexts, what is the first place that comes to mind? Afghanistan, South Sudan? Yemen, Libya or maybe Myanmar? What about countries that have faced major natural disasters in recent years like the Philippines, Nepal or Indonesia? Or countries in transition like Colombia or Liberia? All have different definitions of crisis, but they share one major characteristic in common – core governance institutions struggling to deliver on the State’s compact with its people to serve the most vulnerable citizens in times of great volatility.

The world is increasingly experiencing a confluence of crises - natural disasters, pandemics, violent conflicts, financial crises – that reach around the globe hitting rich and poor countries alike, with lasting consequences especially for millions of the world’s most vulnerable people, costing billions of dollars in damages and lost potential. Last year saw a 25-year peak in violence and conflict, with over 65 million people forcibly displaced. Today, 1.5 billion of the global population, 43 percent of the world’s poor, lives in countries affected by fragility and that number is expected to grow to more than 80% in the next 10-12 years.

The 2030 Agenda acknowledges that achieving sustainable development is not possible without strengthening effective, responsive and accountable institutions capable and empowered to deliver necessary public services to those furthest behind. Functional core governance institutions can be a catalytic accelerator can trigger positive multiplier effects across all the SDGs. Yet rehabilitating core institutions of government is often ignored in the immediate aftermath of crisis, leaving the State vulnerable to path dependencies that have proven hard to reverse well after the crisis.

From 11-13 November, world leaders, including Heads of State and Government, from 84 countries will convene in Paris at the invitation of President Macron of the French Republic for the Paris Peace Forum, where institutional capacity and effectiveness will be the central pillar of discussion in pursuit of durable peace.  The Paris Peace Forum offers a unique opportunity for all of us—International Organizations, States, local governments, NGOs, companies, academics, religious groups and citizens alike —to share experiences and ignite innovative solutions to tackle this ‘wicked hard problem’. UNDP is a proud partner of this endeavor and will share our 60+ years of experience from around the world of working in crisis contexts. Our experience has shown that restoring institutional resilience in crisis-affected context requires at least four interconnected catalysts for success: 

Political leadership is required to prioritize rebuilding the foundations for institutional capacities immediately after the crisis hits the country. Leaders must champion the changes needed to restore functional institutions as part of early recovery and bring together national and subnational actors to overcome inherent opposition to changing what has not worked in the past.

Incentives for positive change are needed, both at the institutional level i.e. monitoring systems for accelerating critical reforms necessary to address disrupted services) and at the level of public servants, including frontline service providers (e.g. through performance targets and non-financial performance rewards. Sustaining effective recovery and service delivery in the aftermath of crisis ultimately depends on the performance of motivated civil servants.

Targeted and sustainable resources, while not a panacea, is necessary to boost national and subnational initiatives for institutional recovery, including through regional peer-to-peer solution, public-private partnership, South-South cooperation, and other forms of sustainable investments in rebuilding institutional capacity.

Active citizen engagement can significantly help change inherent public mistrust in public sector performance in times of crisis. It can break down the State-citizen silo by engaging institutions share their real-time actions directly with the public on how they are delivering critical support. This can also most importantly help to promote transparency and incentives for change. 

This is ‘mission critical’ for UNDP. We must and we will strive to do better to serve people impacted by the world’s worst crises and this includes watering the roots of disrupted institutions early on, from day one, so they may build back more resilient and more able to deliver critical services to citizens that need them most.


To learn more, follow UNDP Core Government Functions on Twitter: @Gov4Resilience