Fragility – what is it really?

Dec 12, 2017

When the Capacity Building Committee held its annual meeting in Washington DC earlier this year, I had the privilege to meet old friends and new colleagues in the international community and discuss how to best support the development of SAIs. One of this year’s themes was SAIs in situations of fragility, something that was extremely topical for me as I had just taken on the role as leader for the CBC work stream established to explore opportunities to strengthen the SAI and its role in challenging environments.

During the discussions, the question was raised regarding who is to define fragility? It made me reflect on the issue of fragility, whether it is a contested concept and if it would be challenging for the INTOSAI community to launch an initiative aimed at strengthening SAIs operating in fragile situations? After all, who would appreciate a label as fragile?

Fragility is a very multidimensional concept and could be found in different ways in different countries. When I started to work on fragility and state building, security and domestic control of violence was the first key feature with which I connected a fragile state. In the recent OECD framework on fragility, this is but one of five dimensions of fragility. The others are economic, environmental, political and societal fragility. I don’t think it is necessary for anyone to accept a specific model for how fragility works, but the model offers a key contribution to our thinking in that it points at different ways in which a country could be fragile. It also emphasises the need to apply a holistic view when designing efforts to address the challenges for state building actors.

The first immediate response that came into my mind, as to the challenge for INTOSAI to launch an initiative aimed at strengthening SAIs operating in fragile situations, was that our work would be for a public good, and something that is to be used by SAIs who find it useful. This means that no one labels anyone, but that SAIs or partners who feel they would benefit from the work, are free to pick it up. Hence, no recommendations would be directed towards individual SAIs.

A second reflection is that we are concentrating our efforts on SAIs who find themselves in situations of fragility; this does not by any means imply that the SAIs themselves are fragile. Often, there seems to be the case that SAIs in these situations have emerged as quite strong players in state building efforts. SAIs have also shown that they are capable to find clever ways to address challenges also by small means. If you lack resources, you need to be resourceful. We can find strong SAIs in fragile situations as well as we can find weak SAIs in more stable settings. Our work stream hopes to be able to share some of the success stories of SAIs operating in situations of fragility, as inspiration and guidance for other SAIs who face similar challenges.

The work stream has come off to a good start and I very much look forward to the future work. It is often in the discussions and exchanges of thoughts that the best ideas and arguments are born. I hope we will be able to maintain such a conducive environment within the work stream; and we would like to invite more SAIs and partners who feel they would benefit from our work to contribute with their experiences!



  Oskar Karnebäck

International Advisor, Swedish National Audit Office