International cooperation is teamwork. Can anyone build a team without trust? In sport, a team without trust is just a set of individuals running around on the same pitch. They are each carrying out their own tasks, but they are not working together and complementing each other’s strengths and weaknesses. A team like this will always be less than the sum of its parts because the players lack the confidence that their teammates will assist them in right way. That ‘right way’ is being open and frank so that new ideas and new ways of doing things can be developed without fear of being criticised, shamed, or ignored. Trust doesn’t necessarily mean we always agree, but it does mean having the desire to collaborate and sharing the risk.
So how does this translate into DCAF’s work? When the DCAF team arrived to work full-time in Honduras in 2018 on the Swiss-funded Citizen Security programme, we soon realised that we needed to build trust with the National Police, our principal partner, before the work could begin.
In the past, the police felt that they had been criticised (in many instances, understandably) by other international actors on certain issues. Their experience of different donors had an impact on how DCAF was perceived. Some donors took a train and equip approach, others imposed external models in return for aid -- so naturally the police looked at DCAF and wondered which one of these were we going to be. As a result, polite discussions were always possible, but real collaboration was a long way off.
NOT REPEATING THE SAME MISTAKES
The Honduran National Police have bookcases full of donor-created publications and products that have never been implemented. We wanted to learn from this and avoid making the same mistakes.
We analysed the situation and resolved to be different. We had to be; we were a small agency working for a donor that has traditionally focused on other sectors than the security field (although the Swiss flag and reputation for neutrality helped when building trust), and therefore we had to build a unique offer that set us apart and gave the police the incentive to collaborate with us to bring real behavioural changes and sustainable impact.
Our first strategy was to repeatedly demonstrate that we would not be imposing external models.
We listened to local needs, identified opportunities that aligned with the best practices of SSG/R, and then co-designed responses together. - Dan Hales, Head of DCAF's Field office in Honduras
We analysed what knowledge was required and how to fit it together: methodology and international knowledge from DCAF, national legal and contextual knowledge from the police, good practice from international experts, and of course good food from local caterers to aid the building of trust over lunchtime conversations during workshops. We showed that we focus on the bigger picture - achieving good governance - and not just train and equip stopgaps.
We also proved to our partners that we would not publish information without their consent, and we would work with them on analysis rather than treating them as subjects in studies that we conducted on them. Slowly these commitments, along with actively listening to the police and their needs built real trust.
In an external evaluation conducted by the Swiss government in 2022, DCAF was described by the police as being ‘de la casa’, part of them, whilst still maintaining independence and value to the police. The results speak for themselves - the Honduran National Police have created their first Institutional Gender Policy, a new model and manual on the Use of Force, co-designed diplomas in the police university curriculum, set up mentoring projects, made advances on external controls, profiles and competencies, internal governance and much more.
This success between DCAF and the police demonstrated unique opportunities and innovative working practices that the police are now looking to replicate with other external agencies.
TRUST BUILDING BETWEEN THE POLICE AND THE POPULATION THEY SERVE
These successes led to a far broader conversation where we used this example of trust building with the national police to demonstrate the importance of the police working to increase the trust of the population. If the community doesn’t trust the police, why would they collaborate?
When people have been victims of serious crimes, they are at their most vulnerable and are most in need of safety, and if they feel that they can’t trust the police in general, then why would they trust them with their safety at times of crisis?
This then led to the development of the first-ever Honduran-built confidence in policing measure, a survey designed to understand what fosters the confidence of the community in the police at both the local and institutional levels. This information gives the police the ability to increase the confidence of the population.
This measure has now been implemented by other international agencies in Honduras, as baselines on impact on the community, and the police have used the results to help design and implement new policies and practice.
In short, development aid with no trust is like riding on a carousel. It might look nice in photos, might be very enjoyable, but you will never arrive at your destination. If we are to collaborate to make change, we must have trust. And good catering.