Multi-agency stabilisation operations (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 1198)



Identify literature on best practice and lessons learned in multi-agency stabilisation operations. What evidence is available on whether civilian or military leadership produce better outcomes in different contexts?

Key findings

While there is as yet limited empirical evidence of what works best in multi-agency – or ‘whole-of-government’ – approaches to stabilisation, the literature does identify some lessons learned and principles of good practice. These include:

  • Overcoming common challenges: establishing transparent processes to identify and manage tensions and trade-offs between neutral humanitarian assistance and other military objectives; dealing with gaps in integrated strategic frameworks, civilian capabilities and government cultural and procedural coherence; and recognising the limitations of overly-ambitious, top-down, linear approaches.
  • Fostering local ownership: aligning to shared national frameworks of political, security and development objectives; working to strengthen the capacity of national institutions; building more constructive state-society relations; creating more comprehensive ‘whole-of-society’ approaches that include civil society actors.
  • Establishing inter-agency structures: learning from experiences with initiatives such as inter-agency boards, permanent inter-agency units and inter-agency funding pools; considering how to effectively integrate contributions from a greater range of government bodies.
  • Using joint processes: using joint analysis and planning to foster inter-ministerial understanding and implementation; improving the integration of political analysis and using plans to inform programming; securing high-level commitment for dedicated resources and broad participation in monitoring and evaluation.
  • Operationalising the approach: considering differentiated application of the whole-of-government approach, where the intensity and degree of cooperation varies according to the mode of operation, subject area, and level of implementation (Baumann, 2013).
  • Discussions on the leadership of stabilisation operations highlight recommendations for improving civil-military coordination through clear structures for coordination and leadership and consistent, strategic engagement to establish mutual understanding; and investing in civilian capacity to take the operational lead in whole-of-government stabilisation approaches.


Carter, B. Multi-agency stabilisation operations (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 1198). Birmingham, UK (2015) 9 pp. [Governance and Social Development Resource Centre, University of Birmingham]

Multi-agency stabilisation operations (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 1198)

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