If you only read one thing this week…

What do communities think of NGO approaches to security? by ifyouonlyreadonethingthisweek
June 13, 2006, 11:23 pm
Filed under: Articles, Development theory, If you have 30 mins

The Feinstein International Famine Center was commissioned by the United Kingdom NGO-Military Contact Group last year to publish a paper called 'Mapping the Security Environment – Understanding the perceptions of local communities, peace support operations, and assistance agencies' (click the link to download the pdf) by Larry Minear and Antonio Donini. This article by Michele Madore for Mercy Corps gives us a good summary.

The paper asks whether aid workers and military forces effectively assess and meet the security desires of local communities, and how well local communities view the effectiveness of military and aid groups in terms of security provision in places like Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Sierra Leone.


Local communities, international troops, and aid groups alike cite security as a primary concern in regions of conflict. However, both the aid groups and the troops assessed claimed that the safety of their own workers was a larger priority than community security, suggesting that local communities’ perceptions of security can sometimes be ignored. While it seems natural for military and aid groups to want to place their workers’ security as the highest priority, researchers Minear and Donini point out that this should not come at the expense of the local communities’ security. The study suggests that internally focused safety priorities can undermine the potential for peace, actually leading to unsafe conditions for workers. Instead, local perceptions of security need to take a significant role in program planning and evaluation. Aid groups seemed more attuned to these needs than did the military, but both groups fell short of communities’ desired level of safety. The research also suggests that communities’ definition of security differs from the security views of those conducting the aid efforts. Locals desire a stronger voice in the establishment of priorities for enhanced security, and hope to see the delivery of goods and services expedited in post-conflict situations. Communities sometimes report that military troops are more efficient than aid groups in post-conflict reconstruction. Communities in Afghanistan, for example, particularly appreciated the rapid rebuilding of mosques (although this finding should, perhaps, be taken with a grain of salt when NGO empowerment based methodologies are compared with direct re-building).

While aid organizations often project some level of antagonism towards international troops’ efforts, research from this mid-2005 study suggests that local communities in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Sierra Leone seem to care little about who provides the aid so long as the aid arrives. Generally, communities and aid groups alike welcomed the physical security provided by the military. Although communities do distinguish differences between military and aid groups’ relative effectiveness, such data suggests that local voices need to be heard and heeded if aid groups truly wish to meet the communities’ perceived needs for security. Additionally, aid groups need to look past their antagonism towards the military to find practical ways to work towards the establishment of positive peace.

In conclusion then, while military protection is appreciated by aid groups and communities in times of conflict, both military and aid groups need more equal access to funds in post-conflict situations. Furthermore, military and aid groups need to implement tools such as focus groups and semi-structured interviews to better respond to local definitions of peace and safety. Data from local communities in terms of aid groups and military effectiveness needs to be collected and incorporated into policies. Without such community feedback, those providing assistance can only claim modest gains on behalf of donor governments rather than that of the community itself.

The article appeared as “International troops, aid workers and local communities: mapping the perception gap” in the December 2005 edition of Humanitarian Exchange.


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