Learning from Complex Crises

As a follow-on project to the successful Fragility Study,  Frontier was awarded USIP’s project on “3D Learning from Complex Crises”  to identify lessons from defense, development, and diplomacy coordination and collaboration in complex environments. Complexity is a useful frame for thinking about U.S. engagement in fragile states because of the plethora of actors and dynamics present that demand an integrated, adaptive, and aligned U.S. approach. Complexity not only describes the operating environment in the three locations selected for this project, but also the nature of the U.S. policymaking apparatus; a heterogenous set of various (and sometimes competing) interests, processes, actors and dynamics. This project does not attempt to map the full complex ecosystem of each case, but offers it as an organizing concept under which various issues and dynamics such as state fragility, violent conflict and humanitarian disaster take root, affecting the efficacy of U.S. policies and actions.

In Burma (2009-2015) Jordan (2011-2016), and the Lake Chad Region (2013-2016), we investigated exactly what 3D actors did and how they did it to stave off further deterioration of crises. To inform our discovery learning process, and ensure the reports reflected the voices and experiences of the U.S. government personnel tirelessly working these issues, we pursued the following participatory methodology.

Over nine months, the Frontier team reviewed more than 100 unclassified documents, hosted three case workshops with current U.S. Government personnel working on these countries and regions, conducted 100 interviews, validated the emerging insights with senior leaders from across the 3D institutions in addition to other interagency partners, briefed deputies and leaders from across the government, and published the cases and overarching memos distilling the insights. It is our hope that the 3D insights and the perspectives presented in these cases will inform future interagency learning and improve interoperability among DoD and civilian agencies working on the frontlines of policy and implementation.

A Note of Gratitude

We are humbled by the commitment and sacrifices made by the men and women who serve the United States and its interests at home and abroad in some of the most challenging environments imaginable, furthering the national security objectives discussed herein. This project owes a significant debt of gratitude to all those who contributed to the case study process by recommending literature, participating in workshops, sharing reflections in interviews, and offering feedback on drafts of these cases. The stories and lessons described in these cases are dedicated to them. Thank you to the leadership of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and its Center for Applied Conflict Transformation for supporting this study. Special thanks also to the US Agency for International Development (USAID) Office of Transition Initiatives (USAID/OTI) for assisting with the production of various maps and graphics within this report. Any errors or omissions are the responsibility of the authors alone.

Download the Case Studies

Breaking Boko Haram and Ramping Up Recovery: US-Lake Chad Region 2013-2016

From Pariah to Partner: The US Integrated Reform Mission in Burma 2009-2015

Preserving Stability Amidst Regional Conflagration: US-Jordan 2011-2016