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Reflections from the Field


Heads of DCAF field offices gathered in February to reflect on trends and challenges we see in SSG/R and how our work will evolve in the coming years.  In places as diverse as Niamey, Tegucigalpa, Tunis and Ljubljana, our partners work in different circumstance but face similar challenges - responding to complex risks and threats, meeting the security needs of their communities, and doing so in a way that is accountable, transparent, and subject to the rule of law. Our world has changed significantly since DCAF was established 20 years ago and the areas below will be particularly important for our work in the coming years:


Our partners around the world are facing difficult decisions as they balance the protection of human rights and the most vulnerable members of society, health, security, economic and other priorities. Choices made at this time will have lasting implications for security and governance and could offer important lessons for governments increasingly affected by natural disasters as a result of climate change. We have a role to play in sharing lessons and good practices related to security responses to pandemics, highlighting critical trends for security governance, and helping our partners maintain a focus on the accountable, effective and inclusive provision of security throughout and beyond the crisis. 

Local security governance

While much of SSG/R has previously been focused at the national level, there is increasing interest in working at the sub-national or local level.  Decentralization and increased local autonomy appear regularly as key components of political transition and peace processes; and in fragile and conflict-affected contexts it is important to acknowledge the sometimes limited reach and even the limited legitimacy of national security forces.  Urbanisation is another trend across many regions, calling attention to the importance of security governance in urban settings.  Ultimately, (in)security is experienced first at the individual and community level and this should be reflected in an approach that engages with and connects different levels of governance. 

Fragility, conflict and violence

We are engaging earlier on the conflict-to-peace continuum, which in some cases requires a significant shift in our approach.  We are seeking creative ways to support our partners, including facilitating dialogue on shared security interests and commissioning local research to ensure recommendations are grounded in a better understanding of local security dynamics.  In areas affected by high levels of conflict and violence, our work also focuses on trust and the social compact between security forces and the communities they serve.  This may take different forms, including strengthening the capacity of oversight institutions to produce concrete improvements in accountability or bringing local definitions of trust and confidence into work with security providers.  

Hybrid security and non-state actors

There is increasing interest in examining the role of hybrid and non-state security and justice providers, which can cover a wide range of stakeholders from private security companies to indigenous authorities and local armed groups.  While work in this space may present certain risks, informal actors can be important sources of resilience and there is value in deepening our understanding of how more effective oversight might acknowledge the role these actors can play and ensure their contributions respect the rights of all communities. 

Emerging security needs

Our partners in the field are facing a security landscape profoundly affected by trends including digitalization and increasing cyber threats and risks, climate change, and large-scale migration.  Responses to these trends must emphasize good governance and balance a range of considerations, from the development of new technical skills, to protection of human rights and privacy while safeguarding national interests, to the resources required to generate effective and accountable approaches.  Our focus will be on supporting our partners as they develop related security governance measures, and on capturing and sharing lessons and innovative approaches.  

Media & SSG/R

We have strengthened our work with journalists across a range of contexts, to include situations of conflict and violent extremism, with an emphasis on the role of the media in holding power to account.  The power of social media requires a re-thinking of the role of the media as a driver of conflict and potential means for societal control or state capture.  Where before governments may have had a monopoly on propaganda, now constellations of powerful non-state actors have the capacity to profoundly influence the national debate through large scale use of social media. Our partners are requesting support in thinking through appropriate responses to “fake news.”  Security sector actors are also using social media, opening new space for communication between the state and society. 

Gender & security

Significant progress has been made in this area in recent years but much work remains.  Conscious and unconscious bias are a challenge, with the security sector in many countries lagging behind other sectors in terms of gender mainstreaming.  Gender equality cannot be achieved through quotas alone but requires a fundamental change in perspectives and organizational cultures.  There is still a tendency to view women as having limited agency in security – whether by considering them as beneficiaries rather than providers of security; or, in contexts including violent extremism, downplaying their role as sources of violence.  A comprehensive approach to gender and security also requires a focus on how local concepts of masculinity influence the provision, management and oversight of security. 

Local ownership

There is an increasing call to take a broader view of local ownership, which focuses not only on state institutions but also on the role of citizens and communities in identifying security needs and demanding accountability and transparency.   This is particularly relevant and complex when working in contexts of high levels of corruption; with security forces known to abuse and prey on local populations; or with governments divided along sectarian, ethnic or tribal lines, in which there may be limited support for the idea of security as a public good.  Moments of significant political transition offer important openings to focus on SSR as a matter of public interest. 


Abigail Robinson
Abigail Robinson is Programme Management Advisor in DCAF’s Operations Department, responsible for designing approaches to managing, monitoring, and learning from SSG/R programs. Abigail has worked on SSR initiatives in the Sahel, East Africa and the Balkans. Her previous experience includes overseeing security cooperation programs for the U.S. government, negotiating and implementing arms control treaties, a diplomatic posting in The Hague, and service in the U.S. Army.