The Fragility Study Group is an independent, non-partisan, effort of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Center for a New American Security and the United States Institute of Peace. The chair report of the study group, U.S. Leadership and the Challenge of State Fragility, was released on September 12. This brief is part of a series authored by scholars from the three institutions that build on the chair report to discuss the implications of fragility on existing U.S. tools, strategic interests and challenges. 

"Despite the decades of scholarship and hard-earned experience, we have yet to come up with an effective and sustainable approach to fragile states.” William Burns, Michèle Flournoy, and Nancy Lindborg deserve credit for acknowledging this reality and stating it clearly. Part of the strategy they describe to build that effective and sustainable approach is increased investment in learning and evaluation, noting: “The United States needs a more robust learning agenda to collect data from past fragile-states engagements and incorporate lessons learned into future endeavors.”1 As a longtime proponent and practitioner of monitoring, evaluation, and learning, I find it heartening to see this in the paper. However, if decades of scholarship have not gotten us to where we want, clearly something needs to change in regard to how we are pursuing the learning agenda in regard to fragility. We either need to change what we are learning or change the way we are using that learning. Doing more of the same kind of research, and using that research in the same way, is not the answer.

It is also heartening to see the Fragility Study Group’s (FSG) paper refer to a learning agenda instead of simply referring to the need for more research or evidence. Implementing a learning agenda requires conducting research and gathering evidence, but also forces us to grapple with questions of how organizations will learn from that evidence and how they will apply it to undertake more effective initiatives.

The goal of this paper is to describe what we need to do to develop and implement a more robust and effective learning agenda focused on addressing fragility that effectively informs policy decisions. In doing so, the paper will discuss both what we need to learn and how we need to learn. In particular, the paper makes three overarching recommendations:

  1. Focus our learning agenda on the “collective wisdom” on supporting peace and stability in fragile states articulated in the FSG paper.
  2. Prioritize developing a better understanding of how to foster inclusion across all social sectors and addressing the challenges to “working politically” that often hinder research on inclusion.
  3. Develop and support learning systems that create rapid feedback loops and that break down the distinction between learning and implementation.

This paper will take a peacebuilding perspective. My background is in field-based peace building; applied research on peacebuilding programs; and working with organizations to improve their monitoring, evaluation, learning systems. Thus, my primary frame for this paper is the field-based program. I will (mostly) leave discussions on topics such as global policy, interagency processes, and congressional relations to others contributing to the FSG.

Andrew Blum is the executive director of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice at the University of San Diego.


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