Do fragile and conflict-affected countries prioritise core government functions?

80% of the world's poorest could live in fragile and conflict-affected contexts by 2030.

Currently about 1.8 billion people live in fragile and conflict-affected contexts, but this is projected to grow to 2.3 billion by 2030. Upwards of 620 million people, or 80% of the world’s poorest, could be living in these contexts by 2030. However, in 2016, just 10% of all official development assistance was spent on peacebuilding, with only 4.2% spent on core government functions in the most fragile countries.

This research was commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to better understand whether, and how, prioritising spending on core government functions (CGF) can lead to more successful transitions towards peace in fragile and conflict-affected countries. Through examining five case study countries - Myanmar, Colombia, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, and South Sudan - the research aims to produce evidence which can inform the ways in which assistance to post-conflict and transitions out of conflict is conceptualised and designed, and provide a platform for post-conflict collaboration and exchange around which other donors and agencies can coalesce, in addition to the UN and the World Bank.


Evidence suggests that providing effective public sector institutions is crucial to breaking the cycle of violence, establishing long-term security and transitioning towards lasting peace. Yet, in the aftermath of conflict, where formal government institutions are either minimally functioning, or have ceased to function, this is a considerable challenge. In addition, fragile and conflict-affected situations require fundamentally different approaches because of the complex and dynamic risks that they face. What adds to such complexity is the recognition that 21st-century conflicts do not follow traditional patterns and are increasingly non-linear and often cyclical. Rather, modern conflict manifests as cycles of repeated violence, instability or weak governance either nationally or sub-nationally. This research aims to address a gap in understanding of why and how early investments in strengthening the basic functionality and management of core government institutions in fragile and crisis settings outweighs the costs of inaction and can catalyse sustainable peace.

In some settings, the building blocks for longer-term institutional transformation can be traced by looking at trends and evolution in government spending on building institutional resilience and delivering necessary services over time. Although there is an increasing literature on tracing public spending linkages with improvements in institutional capacity to deliver necessary services across middle to low-income countries, the focus on fragile and conflict-affected settings has yet to be explored in detail and lesson-learning opportunities have yet to be fully exploited. This gap is highlighted in a key recommendation of the recent 2015 Review of the United Nations Peacebuilding Architecture around more predictable financing of peacebuilding.

Our approach

The research used mixed-methods approaches in each of the five countries. Identifying 'transition milestones' in each case in recognition of the non-linear path many countries experience in their journey away from conflict, we focused our analysis around these milestones. Key informant interviews were conducted with government ministries, relevant donor representatives from UN agencies, the World Bank, the IMF and other donors. These provided a narrative that describes the restoration or reform process for each country, and helped to understand the political economy behind decision-making. This allowed us to compare trajectories and processes of institutional rebuilding and reform against the backdrop of conflict dynamics and the events that took place between each milestone.

In addition, an expenditure trend analysis of public spending on core public administration functions (CPAF) was conducted in each country using two processes:

  • An overview of the composition of expenditure and revenue as well as the sustainability of public finances (e.g. fiscal balance) throughout the transition processes undergone in each country. This helped to understand whether variations in CPAF-related expenditures were part of broader structural changes or isolated events surrounding transition points.
  • An in-depth analysis of CPAF-related spending within the six-year time span surrounding the identified transition milestones. To allow us to explore whether these changes in public spending were motivated by the prioritisation of certain policies/functions or by the availability (or lack thereof) of public resources.


The research has provided evidence which will help to support advocacy efforts within the UN and beyond for a prioritisation of peacebuilding and core government function spending in FCAS to support transitions towards peace, and provided recommendations on how to more effectively design this support. In particular, the research has helped to shed light on how public expenditure in core government functions can help deliver on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, especially as the biggest challenges in implementing the Agenda will come from fragile and conflict affected states.

The research has been presented to Oxford academics, colleagues from the Department for International Development (DFID), the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD), and the UN Interagency Platform for Peacebuilding and Statebuilding. It will also be presented at the UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in July 2019.

Areas of expertise