What Makes For an Effective WPS National Action Plan?
By Miki Jacevic
This article was originally published here on The Strategist.
For the past 20 years, I’ve worked on turning the promise of UN Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security (WPS) into reality. In my experience, developing WPS national action plans (NAPs) is one way in which we can translate policy commitments that matter into actions that make a difference. Since the first NAP in 2006, 80 countries have adopted NAPs with specific national and local objectives. Over the past decade, I’ve helped close to 40 nations create, implement and evaluate their NAPs. While it’s hard to establish a causal link, 90% of countries with a NAP have decreased their gender gaps and 60% have grown more peaceful according to data from the World Economic Forum.
While this data is important, I can testify to the benefits of the process of developing a plan in different contexts. First, creating a NAP forces an unusual set of government actors to work together—it isn’t often that interior and defence ministry officials gather in the same room with social development or women’s affairs officials.
Second, in most countries, civil society drives the agenda and plays a critical role in its implementation; for example, an NGO leader from Erbil currently coordinates the cross-sectoral taskforce that oversees the Iraqi NAP.
Third, by pushing implementation to the local level, NAPs facilitate the recruitment of more women into local police forces and other government institutions. Currently, more than 100 local action plans are bringing municipal and district governments together with local security and justice providers to mainstream gender into their operations.
Finally, NAPs are vehicles to engage government actors at various levels with ordinary people to build trust and communication about stability and security issues. As my friend Precious Dennis said in Liberia, ‘We want to use this NAP to teach people that we can now turn to the police to provide us with protection, not to run away from their past abuses.’
Still, some challenges remain as we move towards improvements. Inaugural plans focus heavily, sometimes exclusively, on intragovernmental processes that promise little meaningful change outside bureaucracy; many include vague pledges, without clarity about intended results.
For some governments, creating a NAP becomes a check-the-box exercise without any real commitment to implementation. And even when there’s a commitment, the action is often impaired by operational challenges—lack of staff capacity, lack of effective mechanisms to engage civil society and, most often, lack of resources to implement proposed activities. Many NAPs don’t build in the capacity to monitor implementation or explain change in the lives of ordinary people, and so don’t achieve a high impact.
Through my practical experience, in the UN global study to implement resolution 1325, we identified four elements that create a high-impact NAP: an inclusive design process and an established coordination system for implementation, strong and sustained political will, identified and allocated implementation resources, and a results-based monitoring and evaluation plan.
An inclusive design process ensures that the various government ministries and agencies responsible for the NAP are represented in both its creation and its implementation. This includes every ministry involved, as well as civil society. In my own native Bosnia and Herzegovina, one member nominated from each ministry involved was given explicit roles and responsibilities.
The political will of the institutions involved determines whether the NAP will be more than a check-the-box exercise. The commitment of high-level government officials is important, but it’s often mid-level civil servants who determine the success of a NAP’s implementation. In countries affected by conflict, buy-in and ownership shouldn’t be limited to the federal level; provincial and local governments must also be committed. From Sierra Leone to Kenya, from Farah Province in Afghanistan to Mindanao in the Philippines, I’ve seen scores of such committed men and women work hard to apply a NAP for change.
Results-based monitoring and evaluation takes implementation-focused monitoring and evaluation a step further. It includes a framework or matrix linking one step to the next, assigning responsibilities to lead and supporting agencies for implementing actions, and reporting on measurable qualitative and quantitative indicators.
Developing indicators in the design phase can make implementation much easier. In several countries I’ve worked in, government officials and civil-society representatives often report that using SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) indicators allows them to translate intended results into concrete actions with specified results.
Over the past few years, I’ve intensified advocacy to move away from the default format for most NAPs, which reflects the ‘four Ps’ of resolution 1325 (participation, protection, prevention, and post-conflict relief and recovery). One core lesson is that, to translate the resolution’s (and its seven enforcing ones’) transformative potential, we can’t plan simply according to the pillars, as many activities overlap and intersect. It’s much more effective to focus on strategic areas of substantive change—for example, to reform the security sector, to prevent violent extremism or to increase gender perspectives in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Several recent NAPs, notably those of the UK, Canada, Finland and Bosnia, use this format.
Several other important lessons:
- Develop an outcome-based logic framework that explains how the aggregate outputs contribute to the desired changes.
- Use indicators already established for other reports; for example, Sustainable Development Goal 16.7 speaks directly to the development and implementation of NAPs.
- Don’t create a ‘fog of indicators’. Don’t create too many, and be careful about what you decide to count.
- Include qualitative indicators that can track transformative change.
- Ensure steps to analyse data, reflect, learn and apply; if done wisely and with appropriate support, monitoring and evaluation is much more than just an accountability tool.
- Report and disseminate; often, even when we have good NAP results to report, there are no means to disseminate stories of impact and difference.
Mirsad ‘Miki’ Jacevic is vice chair of the Institute for Inclusive Security and a professor at American University, Georgetown University and the School for International Training.
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