Skip to content

Operationalising the Triple Nexus

August 20, 2021

How individual agencies can ensure the Humanitarian, Development and Peacebuilding Nexus (HDPN) is genuinely useful to them and their work.

The relevance of the Triple Nexus to individual agencies

The Triple Nexus was a response to the incoherence, and the paucity and weakness of linkages between humanitarian, development and peacebuilding interventions and agencies. Aid agencies have long failed to work in the joined up away that supporting people in fragile contexts requires, and the Nexus implies they should collaborate more effectively across the boundaries that have long built up between humanitarian, development and peace work. It has been endorsed by institutional donors, including collectively through the OECD-DAC. Most UN and international agencies have integrated at least the language of the Nexus into their programming and communications.

For a typical development, humanitarian or peacebuilding agency, or a multi-purpose agency, its relevance might be seen as fourfold, helping to:

  1. Improve coherence across its own humanitarian, development and peacebuilding actions, including with and among local partners across the three dimensions of the Nexus.
  2. Improve coherence and linkages with other agencies, across the three dimensions of the Nexus.
  3. Inform its advocacy, for example towards donors and other international and national institutions including governments.
  4. Reassure donors and other stakeholders of its commitment to the Nexus, to help secure their support.

Obstacles to integrating the Nexus

But many agencies have found it hard to operationalise the Nexus. There are three main reasons for this. The first, most often cited reason, is the existence of silos in the aid sector, and within individual organisations. These are the result of long-standing cultural and practical differences in the way the three ‘tribes’, representing the three dimensions of the Nexus, approach their work. Many factors are at play here, including:

  • The rapid response and shorter-term solutions, versus slower onset, longer-term approaches that understandably separate humanitarians from peacebuilding and development actors.
  • Humanitarians’ concern that embracing ‘political’ considerations may undermine their neutrality and access; whereas for peacebuilders, politics is an essential factor to be understood and addressed; while development actors may sit somewhere between the two.

The second reason is quite simply the difficulty of introducing major change into a complex and fragmented sector which already follows ‘tried and tested’ approaches, and in which accountability is blurred. Levers of change are widely distributed across the sector, hard to locate, and often ineffective.

The third reason is that the Nexus has been defined in a way that is inherently unhelpful. It was coined by people looking at the aid sector as though from above. What they saw was a lack of operational coordination, hence their fix was defined in terms of better operational linkages.

But people in need of support seldom make such clear distinctions between humanitarian, development and peacebuilding. A person fleeing conflict or disaster may express their initial needs in humanitarian terms, but they do not thus relinquish their right or aspiration for peaceful progress. A person can be simultaneously in receipt of support to stay alive, while also improving their prospects for the future, amid improved security, stability and governance: reflecting all three dimensions of the Nexus.

So coining the problem and its solution in terms of inter-agency collaboration, rather than programmatic and ethical coherence, is maladroit. This has fed a widespread sense of cynicism among agencies, where genuine commitment to the Nexus per se is thin – even where staff may already understand the need for, and be using flexible approaches. Local organisations in aid recipient countries can be even more sceptical, seeing the Nexus as yet another distraction from more pressing issues such as their own empowerment and access to aid resources.

So it’s essential that any agency wishing to operationalise the Nexus should start with an honest appraisal of its utility for the agency concerned. This means defining or interpreting the Nexus in a way that fits its own values and organisational realties, and then making a conscious decision to invest in the kinds of approaches that emerge from this analysis. The Nexus is only useful if by adopting it, we can increase the positive impact of our own and / or others’ work. Otherwise it’s a distraction.

An approach to identifying an agency-specific approach to the HDPN

A generic approach to developing an agency’s strategic approach to the HDPN might look something like this. It could be divided into four main stages, probably led by a cross-departmental working group.

1. Identify Niche

Discussions/interviews with the working group, staff and partners (programme and non-programme departments; field and HQ), to identify how the Triple Nexus can be most useful to the organisation. Draft a paper outlining its strategic focus, for example using Moore’s Public Value model, which locates strategy in the overlap (and potential overlap) between Capacity, Mission, and Enabling Environment. 

2. Validate Strategic Niche and Develop Plan

After initial vetting by the working group, the draft paper would be used as the basis for an online workshop with two objectives:

  • Amend and validate the draft strategic niche
  • Outline areas of action for taking the strategy forward across different departments.

Based on the workshop outputs, and subsequent informal internal bilateral and group discussions, the strategy and plan of actions is finalised. This process would involve all staff expected to play a key role in leading its implementation. The plan would contain a mixture of measures, e.g. piloting and measuring progress in specific projects/contexts; awareness raising/capacity building for staff and partners; adaptations in programme design, monitoring and evaluation and learning (DMEL); the development of external messaging; and tailoring approaches to institutional donors. If possible, these should be integrated into existing plans, to avoid overloading budgets and people’s time.

3. Piloting

During implementation, teams should have access to hands on technical assistance and also a helpdesk. The working group keeps finger on the pulse of progress, takes note of and responds to key lessons learned, and keeps the project alive (among all the competing priorities staff are faced with).

4. Lesson Learned, and Phase 2 Plan

At the end of the pilot period – say a year – a workshop is planned to elucidate lessons learned. Its design is influenced by a review of relevant reports, and a number of internal stakeholder interviews. This would be used to write a short, synthesised final report, with lessons learned and recommendations, and develop a phase 2 plan.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: