United Nations Guidance Note for Effective Use and Development of National Capacity in Post-Conflict Contexts

United Nations Inter-Agency Team on National Capacity Development
United Nations
Year of publication: 

As countries emerge from conflict they often face a critical shortage of civilian capacity. “The journey from war to sustainable peace is not possible in the absence of stronger civilian capacity. Without this capacity, … resilient institutions will not take root and the risk of renewed violence will remain.” Effective national policies, institutions and governing systems are critical to successful recovery from conflict or crisis, and must be a priority from the onset of United Nations involvement.

This Guidance Note provides principles, advice and resources for the United Nations as it supports the use and development of national capacity in countries emerging from conflict. The Note is intended to inform assessment, analysis and planning exercises with national as well as other partners and to guide capacity development programming, covering the entire spectrum of UN support including peacekeeping, humanitarian and development activities.

The Note lays out ten principles, advice and resources, which seek to ensure that the United Nations’ system-wide support to capacity development is based on national ownership and priorities, while acknowledging its mandates and norms:

1. Make national ownership the starting point for capacity development.

Genuine national ownership of the capacity development process by a broad range of committed national actors is a necessary condition for its success; without a nationally owned transformation of institutions there can be no sustained recovery from conflict. National demand and ownership are the starting point and driver of capacity development; supply-led responses are to be avoided.

2. Analyse and manage the political aspects of capacity development.

Capacity development creates “winners” and “losers” and affects power relations for better or worse. Identifying, analysing and navigating these power relations and incentive structures – both formal and informal – is a complex challenge that must be undertaken carefully to arrive at politically appropriate and technically sound capacity development.

3. Adapt capacity development support to fit the national context.

Adapting to the national context means understanding what constructive capacities for peacebuilding exist, customizing support to build on them, and being sufficiently pragmatic and flexible to quickly adjust support to changing conditions. While adapting support to the context is important, adherence to international norms and standards must be promoted.

4. Prioritise the feasible within the context of national priorities, including critical capacity gap

Identifying priorities in the face of overwhelming needs and competing objectives can become a challenge in the context of peacebuilding and statebuilding. International partners should prioritise their support to capacity development within context of national peacebuilding priorities and the critical gap areas, where broad national ownership of reform and commitment to change exist.

5. Take a strategic approach to capacity development, balancing support for quick wins and longterm

A strategic, well-coordinated and results-focused approach enhances the effectiveness of capacity development support. This should consist of a combination of both short-term and longer-term initiatives. Demonstration of quick results is essential to peace processes as it can strengthen citizens’ confidence and trust in national institutions; in exploring how to demonstrate progress early on, international partners may consider capacity supplementation and technical support. At the same time, focus on longer-term capacity development initiatives from the beginning is necessary to lay the groundwork for sustainability of early progress.

6. Draw on countries with experience of transition, especially from the global South.

Countries that have experienced a transition to sustainable peace have acquired valuable experience and skills to contribute to national capacity development. Building partnerships between and among countries through South-South and/or triangular arrangements provides opportunities for valuable exchanges of experience. In tapping into the pool of advisors outside the country, international partners should encourage consideration of resources from the diaspora or global South, for example through
the United Nations CAPMATCH system.

7. Minimise the risk of undermining national capacity through the use of national and international capacity.

Support to national capacity development creates a high demand for national personnel, which may distort the national labour market and workplace relations, as well as for international advisors, which may “crowd out” national capacities. The use of both national and international human resources should be managed to reduce negative impact on national capacity.

8. Build back better: develop new capacities that don’t just replicate the past.

Strengthened capacities of a broad range of stakeholders – state and non-state, formal and informal, women and men, at national and sub-national levels – are vital for peacebuilding and are often needed to overcome the conditions that caused conflict in the first place. Capacity development responses should not only support the strengthening of national institutions but also develop capacities that lessen the probability of further conflict and increase the legitimacy of the state.

9. Make more use of national systems and capacities.

In post-conflict contexts, international partners often bypass or overlook national systems and capacities that do not meet their required performance standards, thereby weakening them further. International partners need to better identify perceived risks of using national systems and capacities and manage the associated trade-offs. Capacity development support by international partners informed by risk analysis and management can enable national institutions to assume ownership of their functional responsibilities and the peacebuilding agenda.

10. Lead and collaborate more effectively as the United Nations in support of national capacity development.

Fragmented, disjointed support to capacity development is not only inefficient, but risks undermining national capacities instead of strengthening them. The UN is in a strong position and has a special obligation when using and supporting the development of national capacities to work in a joined-up manner, building on national ownership and in line with national peacebuilding priorities. This requires proactive collaboration, well beyond coordination, within the UN system and with other partners, building on the personal engagement and leadership of the most senior UN officials, both in agency headquarters and in countries.