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Doing security and justice sector reform differently: what, why and how?

Time (GMT +00) 17:00 18:30

Deborah Mansfield, Legal Assistance for Economic Reform (LASER) Team Leader

Sarah Callaghan, LASER Resident Advisor in the Ministry of Justice, Rwanda

The Law and Development Partnership presented on their experience of using a ‘Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation’ (PDIA) approach to their Legal Assistance through Economic Reform (LASER) programme in eight countries in both Africa and Asia. Deborah Mansfield provided an overview of LASER including its aims and objectives, and the elements of PDIA that they use. These included extensive use of political economy analysis to identify windows of opportunity, taking risks and learning from them (iterative approach), maintaining flexibility through a high level strategic logframe and a flexible results framework and using tools that are best fit not best practice. Sarah Callaghan then described in more detail how this approach looks in practice in her work in Rwanda. She explained the concept of using a problem diary as both a problem identification and lesson learning tool. She and her team are trialing a system of coding process issues to see if there are common process problems. For more insights and ideas, watch the video.

The discussion following Deborah and Sarah’s presentation covered the following issues:

  • Potential inability of funders to understand (in contracting terms) how to operationalise a different approach. It was observed that there is a lot of interest from donors in using this approach, they are just struggling to figure out how to manage it.
  • There are questions about whose problems are being solved and for what purpose, i.e. by pursuing windows of opportunity, will we end up addressing only the easy wins and not addressing the more challenging problems. There are further questions of whether we should only be addressing these problems identified by local partners or should outside organisations try and draw attention to problems? These issues can in part be tackled by ongoing use of PEA to understand who exactly will benefit and what power relations will change as a result of addressing this problem.
  • Can this approach be applied to community justice and police reform which tend to be more intractable. This has been applied at the local level by various organisations on justice and security issues, which ICAI report suggests has gone well.
  • Sometimes these kind of programmes can be cut when a crisis hits, so there is likely to be a need to continue to support these programmes even as humanitarian aid increases.
  • This approach essentially involves putting advisors into government departments which was popular 10 years ago. Is PDIA just a fad?
  • Having less money helps the team use this approach as the relationship between them and partner governments is less about money and more about collaboration.
  • Can these programmes work where there is very little trust in central government? This kind of work may bolster legitimacy of post-conflict governments. One way of ameliorating that is to act as a facilitator and get more people around the table, but it remains a difficult question.
  • In some contexts the state system can be very hierarchical and they want to move quickly with a solution that worked elsewhere. But with time a different approach can make some headway.
  • The ability to admit failure for both host governments and practitioners is important
  • Can these approaches continue if staff change in DFID? There may be commitment but it needs to reconciled with the demand for results. Some argue DFID has become essentially a procurement organisation without the requisite skills to deal with flexible, iterative contracting arrangements
  • A big critique of security and justice programmes is that they treat political will as a black box – how does this approach change that? Partly about building a network of relationships through long-term engagement.


There is an increasing recognition in the development industry of the need to ‘do development differently,’ working in more locally led, politically savvy and iterative ways that are more in keeping with the way social change tends to happen. We know that this is through ‘good enough’, technically sound and politically possible solutions led by local reformers. Yet operationalising such ways of working are difficult, and the security and justice sectors in particular have struggled to move beyond more conventional ways of working.

Drawing lessons from DFID’s innovative Legal Assistance for Economic Reform (LASER) Programme, and from the fast developing Doing Development Differently literature, The Law & Development Partnership (LDP) will explore at a very practical level the emerging implications for donor programming. We will look at how this new approach can be accommodated within existing donor (especially DFID) programming structures and requirements and with examples from the field discuss how it impacts on programme design and implementation.  

About the speakers:

Deborah Mansfield has been a solicitor for over 25 years, and is an expert in justice sector reform and investment climate reform. She has worked extensively in development-focused roles for DFID, the European Commission, Sida, Norad, the World Bank, IFC, the UN and the Law Society of England & Wales.  With LDP, she has designed and developed justice sector reform strategies in Ethiopia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Vietnam and Kenya.

Sarah Callaghan is an Australian barrister and solicitor with over 10 years’ experience working on justice reform and governance issues with governments and international agencies. She has worked extensively for AusAid, Danida, Irish Aid, the Norwegian Refugee Council, DFID, the European Commission and the UN, on designing and implementing justice reform, peacebuilding and democratic governance programmes in a range of complex environments in Sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia.