N°1 - Analysing Context to Tailor Support in Situations of Conflict and Fragility

Topic overview


  • EU staff in situations of conflict and fragility often say that they have the instruments to do sound analysis, but not the time. However, even a quick desk review and annual one-day workshop can be hugely beneficial in recognising the main issues and opportunities for impact — and sharing this understanding across staff.
  • Being clear and precise about what kind of analysis can best feed programme design and implementation can help transform this investment into development impact.
  • Analysis is useful only if it is conducted in a participatory manner, involving heads of sections and project managers — rather than by a single champion or as an ‘ivory tower’ exercise.
  • There is often good analysis available to draw from, and when it is not documented, people with some good knowledge can be brought in.
  • Multiple sources and viewpoints will contribute to a more robust analysis.
  • Ongoing light analysis is likely to deliver more value than a big one-off exercise.

Doing business as usual won’t deliver results in any developing country, and in fragile and conflict-affected states, it can easily do harm — or backfire. On top of the in-depth country knowledge that staff should acquire, context analysis helps EU staff to:

  • understand the causes of conflict and fragility;
  • anticipate events unfolding on the ground in this light;
  • identify priorities for EU support and opportunities for transformation;
  • identify the modalities of EU support that best suit the context;
  • when analysis is conducted jointly with partners (other donors, national counterparts, CSOs, etc.), share our understanding, approach and objectives.

‘You need to take a long-term and systemic approach to the situation you are trying to operate in to have any chance of success.’

Micha Ramakers, Geo-Desk Afghanistan

EU programmes and projects are all, in theory, underpinned by analysis of the strategic context; the partner country’s priorities; the EU’s policy objectives, past experience and areas of strengths; and other donors’ involvement; etc. (e.g. see the Instructions for the Programming of the 11th EDF and the Development Cooperation Instrument 2014–2020, templates for annual action plans and templates for identification fiches and action fiches). However, it might be helpful to ask yourself the following at regular intervals.

  1. Are the objectives and interventions in the multiannual indicative programmes (or of individual projects) critical for the country to transition out of fragility and conflict? (☐ Yes ☐ No)
  2. Are the assumptions behind current programming explicit and still likely? (☐ Yes ☐ No)
  3. Are the main risks and opportunities identified and taken into account? (☐ Yes ☐ No)
  4. Are the objectives, assumptions, risks and opportunities shared across the Delegation staff and with Member States and like-minded donors? (☐ Yes ☐ No)

If the answer to any of the above is no, then there is a need for analysis (either rapid or in-depth). Context analysis can also be triggered by specific events (Box 1).

BOX 1 How to detect fragility when everything seems ‘normal’: my experience in Mali

It is very important to identify fragility in order to be prepared. In Mali, donors did not want to see existing signs of fragility, such as the following.

  • Shrinking control of the state over national territory. In Mali, between 2007 and 2012, the possibility of travel (both mission and tourism) was progressively reduced to less than 25 % of the national territory.
  • Substantial, long-standing armed insurgency, combined with the State’s lack of capability to counter it.
  • Ineffective army and police.
  • Ineffective, weak and corrupt government structures, including at the highest level, preventing effective and timely reactions against threats.
  • Abnormal complacency and weakness at the top. In Bamako, three weeks before the coup, the president was molested in his own office by a group of unhappy soldiers’ wives. Yet few people read this as a last warning before the putsch.
  • Weak and divided civil society unable to unite and react over even a limited common agenda.

Source: Jérôme Le Roy, Head of Section Finance/Contracts, Delegation to Guinea, Former Head of Section Finance/Contracts, Delegation to Mali and Acting Head of Administration during the coup in Mali

This note aims to help EU staff plan, conduct and use the analysis that should help to tailor EU support to the particular dynamics at play, both positive (opportunities for reform, drivers of change) and negative (challenges, risks).

To find out more and read the key issues and case study, Download this first note PDF (311,6 KB)

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last update
5 July 2017

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