January 1, 2020
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(IDEA November 2019)

The value, viability and future of democracy are more contested now than ever before in modern history. While the past four decades have seen a remarkable expansion of democracy throughout all regions of the world, recent years have been marked by declines in the fabric of both older and younger democracies. The idea of democracy continues to mobilize people around the world, but the practice of existing democracies has disappointed and disillusioned many citizens and democracy advocates. Democratic erosion is occurring in different settings and contexts. New democracies are often weak and fragile. Older democracies are struggling to guarantee equitable and sustainable economic and social development. The share of high-quality democracies is decreasing and many of them are confronted with populist challengers. At the same time, democratic transitions occur in political regimes that seemed staunchly undemocratic and popular democratic aspirations continue to be expressed and defended around the world. Despite the challenges, democracy has proven resilient. Democracies have also shown, with some exceptions, to provide better conditions for sustainable development. International IDEA’s report The Global State of Democracy 2019: Addressing the Ills, Reviving the Promise provides a health check of democracy and an overview of the current global and regional democracy landscape. It analyses the encouraging democratic trends as well as the key current challenges to democracy. The Report draws on data from the Global State of Democracy (GSoD) indices and lessons learned from International IDEA’s on-the ground technical assistance to understand the current democracy landscape. It aims at informing strategies, programs and policy interventions in support of democracy.

Civic Space/Civil Society

Saskia Brechenmacher and Thomas Carothers (Carnegie Endowment, 2019)

Since the mid-2000s, civic space has come under attack in many countries around the world. To counter this trend, transnational actors that support civil society have responded in many ways—from exerting diplomatic pressure and building international norms to providing emergency funds for activists. Despite these efforts, governments continue to impose legal and extralegal restrictions amid a worsening larger political environment for civil society. Closing civic space now appears to be just one part of a much broader pattern of democratic recession and authoritarian resurgence. The international response seems stuck: some useful efforts have been undertaken, but they appear too limited, loosely focused, and reactive. This paper considers (i) areas of progress in the international response, (ii) factors limiting the international response; and (ii) policy recommendations to improve support efforts.

Fragile States

Sarah Rose (CGD 2019)

Global development is increasingly intertwined with state fragility. Poverty is becoming concentrated in fragile states, and conflict, violent extremism, and environmental stresses can emerge from and be exacerbated by fragility. As a result, many donors, including the United States, are reflecting on lessons of the past to rethink how they can better help fragile states address the underlying causes of fragility, build peace and stability, and cope with complex risks. To contribute to this conversation, the Center for Global Development convened a working group of more than 20 experts, including former officials from the State Department, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Department of Defense (DOD), and the US intelligence community, along with noted academics and policy experts to identify ideas for how the US government can more effectively use its development assistance—in conjunction with diplomatic and security assistance tools—in fragile states. The working group’s recommendations focus on five themes: (i) Grappling with Elite Incentives and Power Dynamics; (ii) Strengthening Interagency Policy Coherence; (iii) Updating the Mechanics of US Assistance to Fragile States; (iv) Linking Security Assistance and State Legitimacy; and Identifying and Building upon Local Capacities.

(Oxford Policy Management/UNDP (2019)

Re-building Core Government Functions (CGFs) which are responsive and legitimate is a critical process in a country transitioning out of conflict. Although there is much evidence to support the need for effective government institutions to sustain transitions away from conflict, understanding what is required to successfully develop institutional capacity within core government apparatus in fragile and conflict affected situations (FCAS) is a largely neglected area. Indeed, evidence of the connection between public spending, institutional restoration/reform and resilience is sparse in FCAS. Addressing this gap in understanding is increasingly important in light of the continuing trend towards the concentration of poverty in FCAS. This research explores the relationship between ‘core government functions’ (CGF) and transitions in fragile and conflict-affected situations (FCAS), using the context of five countries including Colombia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sierra Leone and South Sudan as case studies. The report is part of a multi-country research project commissioned by UNDP that seeks to understand whether (and how) prioritizing public spending on CGF can lead to more successful transitions towards peace in fragile and conflict-affected countries. It aims to do this by comparing the experience of different FCAS countries and assessing the extent to which these transitions have been facilitated (or not) by increased investment to rebuild CGF.

J. Gaventa. and K. Oswald (IDS 2019)

Empowerment and accountability have long been part of the international development vocabulary and a core part of governance, social development and civil society programs. Yet, much of what has been learnt about these approaches has been drawn from studies in somewhat stable, open and middle-income places around the world. Less is known about how empowerment and accountability are achieved through social and political action in more difficult settings – those faced by institutional fragility, conflict, violence, and closing civic space. This synthesis report highlights key messages emerging from the work of the Action for Empowerment and Accountability Research Program (A4EA), and the implications for how donors, policy makers and practitioners support strategies for empowerment and accountability in fragile, conflict and violence affected settings. Our eight key messages have strong implications for the theories of change used for effective programming in the field.

IDS Bulletin (2019)

Estimates suggest that by 2030, about half of the world’s poor will live in contexts of fragility, conflict and violence, all of which exacerbate the difficulties faced by poor and marginalized people, particularly in influencing the policy decisions that affect their lives. This issue of the IDS Bulletin was prepared as part of Action for Empowerment and Accountability (A4EA), an international research program exploring social and political action in fragile, conflict, and violent settings. It identifies insights from relatively recent experiences of grass-roots struggles and related social and political change. The articles highlight key issues that are central in understanding how accountability pathways unfold in contexts of fragility, violence, and conflict. Such contexts are often ones where state institutions are weak, fragmented, and lack legitimacy; where non-state actors control territory and often provide services, and where civic space is limited and uneven. The issue emphasizes the importance of distinguishing processes of accountability from those of empowerment and recognizing the complexities of the relationships between them. As pockets of fragility, conflict, and violence emerge in what have so far been relatively stable places, the initial insights discussed here will be increasingly relevant for tackling these issues globally.

Megan Doherty, Natalie Hill, Ryan Sheely, Rebecca Howe, and Elise Egan (Democracy International (DI); Catholic Relief Services (CRS); International Foundation for Electoral; Systems (IFES); Counterpart International; International Republican Institute (IRI); Mercy Corps; National Democratic Institute (NDI); Pact -Nov. 2019)

Democracy and governance (D&G) deficits — particularly weak state capacity, accountability, and legitimacy; exclusion or marginalization of population groups; and weak civic engagement — are drivers of fragility, conflict and violence (FCV). D&G assistance to address these drivers — and foreign policies that promote democratic, inclusive and responsive institutions — increase state capacity and accountability and build good governance. These vital investments can help resolve the democracy and governance gaps and grievances that drive chronic fragility. Building state accountability, effectiveness, and legitimacy, alongside citizen engagement and inclusion, must therefore be part of any pathway from fragility to development. However, traditional approaches to democracy and governance programming face unique challenges in FCV settings. Volatile and unpredictable contexts, difficulty identifying actors to work with, and challenges in defining and measuring success mean that approaches used in non-fragile settings may not have the same impact in FCV contexts. This paper argues that the field of democracy and governance interventions must therefore adapt to apply more usefully to fragile contexts, and surfaces examples of promising innovations.


Anne Isabel Kraus, Owen Frazer, Lars Kirchhoff, Tatiana Kyselova, Simon J. A. Mason and Julia Palmiano Federer (Politics and Governance, Nov. 2019)

This article focuses on the dilemmas and trade-offs that third parties face when mediating violent political conflicts. Should they ignore human rights violations because pushing the issue could jeopardize relationships with political actors who grant access for humanitarian aid? Will bringing moderates and hardliners together help the peace process or radicalize moderate actors? What should dialogue facilitators do when the act of identifying non-mainstream groups to be included into dialogue increases division and polarization? The activity of peacemaking is inherently characterized by such process and strategy dilemmas where two equally compulsory imperatives seem not to be attainable at the same time. The article proposes a framework to break out of either-or thinking in these situations. We argue that: 1) making oneself aware of how a decision is perceived, and 2) systematically exploring a set of different strategies for creating new unexpected options helps to ease these decisions and avoid rotten compromises. The model reworks and combines existing problem-solving strategies to create a new explorative option generation approach to peacemaking dilemmas and trade-offs. Some of these strategies, such as sequencing and incrementalization, are already well-established in peacemaking. Others, such as compartmentalization and utilization, are rather unconsciously used. All identified strategies, however, are not yet systematically employed to manage third parties’ own dilemmas and trade-offs. Under the suggested framework, these strategies can act in complement to synthesize creativity and strategic thinking with surprising ease. Using examples from the authors’ peacemaking activities and observations in Myanmar, Thailand, and Ukraine, the article demonstrates the real-world benefits of the framework in terms of decision assessment and optional thinking.

Countering Violent Extremism

Iffat Idris (GSDRC November 2019)

Gender and age can have a big influence on people’s roles in relation to violent extremism: if they are vulnerable to recruitment, if they join violent extremist groups, the driving factors, what their participation in violent extremism entails, and – critically – what approaches should be taken to preventing or countering violent extremism (P/CVE). Hence, it is important not to take a one-size-fits-all approach in P/CVE programming, but rather to differentiate between men, women, boys and girls. The review drew on a range of academic and grey literature to answer the question: How has P/CVE programming engaged men, women, girls and boys differently and what has worked and what were the challenges in gender-responsiveness?

Iffat Idris (DSCRC October 2019)

This review looks at the use of community cohesion projects to prevent or counter violent extremism (P/CVE). It finds that such initiatives can be helpful in conflict-affected societies, but there are limited evaluations in the literature, and these generally do not make a direct causal link between interventions to promote social (community) cohesion and P/CVE. The retreat of Daesh from territories under its control, notably in Iraq and Syria, has created a massive challenge of bringing about integration between divided communities, notably populations seen as having collaborated with the group, former combatants, and those who suffered persecution or were displaced because of Daesh. Failure to bring about social cohesion carries the real risk of renewed extremism, violence and conflict. Social cohesion can help prevent/counter violent extremism (P/CVE) by building relationships and reducing the marginalization that is a potential driver of extremism. There is considerable overlap between social cohesion and the reintegration aspect of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) programs. Initiatives to promote social cohesion can be divided into those where this is the primary objective, and those where this is seen as a ‘by-product’ of other goals, notably development. This review focuses on the former. Approaches to promoting social cohesion include: joint collaboration on development projects; opportunities for mixing and interaction between different groups; inter-group dialogues; and awareness-raising/sensitization workshops. The review found some evidence in the literature for the link between community cohesion and P/CVE. A study of peacebuilding programs in Africa found that local counternarratives created and disseminated by trusted community leaders were a prominent protective factor against VE. It also found that if members of distinct groups had opportunities to discuss their perspectives and were provided strategies for forging relationships with one another, they would be more tolerant of one another and be less likely to support VE. Studies of VE in Kenya echo these findings: association between members of different religious groups was found to be a significant factor in building resilience to VE. The review identified a diverse range of projects being carried out to promote social cohesion in conflict-affected regions, notably those formerly controlled by Daesh. Projects in Iraq include: brokering of reconciliation agreements between different communities to reduce violence; support to local civil society organizations to conduct local dialogues on divisions and how to overcome them; establishment of youth centers open to all communities, and collective community development projects.

Siân Herbert (GSDRC October 2019)

This rapid literature review collates lessons from conflict resolution/peacebuilding programs that include land, resource management, and/or environmental issues. This is a burgeoning area of research which draws on a number of interrelated concepts such as environmental peacebuilding, resilience building, and bottom-up peacebuilding. Ide and Scheffran (in Ide, 2017, p.545) conceptualize environmental peacebuilding as including “all forms of cooperation on environmental issues which simultaneously conceptually aims at or de facto achieves the transformation of relations between hostile parties towards peaceful conflict resolution”. The environmental peacebuilding literature has moved the focus from resource scarcity, violence and competition to how the environment can incentivize cooperation and peace (Dresse, Fischhendler, Nielsen & Zikos, 2019) through rebuilding key relationships, trust, and a desire for coexistence (Bromwich, 2014; Roulin, et al., 2017). Thus rebuilding and restoring cooperation over natural resources and the environment is important for both peacebuilding and for governance more generally (Bromwich, 2014). Environmental peacebuilding includes a wide range of environmental and natural resource activities, e.g. including activities in the areas of: climate change mitigation and preparation; agriculture and farming; natural resource exploitation; access, use and ownership of land; rewilding; and nature conservation; etc. This query draws on a range of examples from these areas, and from different countries, and provides lessons for the key issues most mentioned in that literature.


Farnush Ghadery (SSRN 2019)

In recent years, peace and justice processes in post-conflict countries have turned into an industry of their own. With a variety of actors, norms and processes involved, the fields have not only expanded as areas of practice but also attracted considerable attention amongst scholars. Whilst the role of the international community in post-conflict states, particularly as part of peace and justice processes, has been subject of much scholarly debate, this paper focuses on international actors’ attempts at advancing women’s rights in predominantly Muslim post-conflict countries. It discusses the reluctance of the most significant international actor in a variety of post-conflict processes, namely the United Nations, to engage more closely with contextualized bottom-up approaches to women’s rights advocacy under its Women, Peace and Security agenda. The paper focuses specifically on the United Nations’ failure to see the potential of Islamic feminism in post-conflict Afghanistan as an alternative to its hitherto strategy of grounding women’s rights in Western liberal conceptions of ‘universal’ human rights. It argues for a more contextual approach to women’s rights advocacy by the United Nations that allows for the possibility of including non-hegemonic rights discourses as well as grants more attention to local bottom-up approaches.

Rebecca Holmes, Nicola Jones and Pilar Domingo (ODI 2019)

The past decade has seen progress in advancing gender equality and women’s and girls’ empowerment through social protection. However, significant challenges persist. Coverage gaps for women of working age, and for children and adolescents, remain high. Addressing gender inequality is often seen as synonymous to targeting women as a vulnerable group, or in their role as mothers or caregivers. And while social protection programs could be transformational and contribute to women’s and girls’ empowerment, they rarely explicitly aim to do so. This paper moves beyond discussions around technical policy design and implementation features to understand the political economy factors that either support or hinder a gendered approach, and to identify entry points for action. It explores the factors that affect decisions around resource allocation, legal change and policy formulation using Rosendorff’s ‘three Is’: the institutions (formal and informal), the interests of key actors, and the ideas framing social protection strategies and programs. We find that progress in advancing gender-responsive social protection is more likely where: (i) there is a combination of pro-poor and inclusive national government institutions and influential political elites championing gender-responsive social protection; (ii) advocates influence informal decision-making arenas and sub-national political institutions; (iii) there is a broad coalition of skilled and resourced actors; and (iv) the framing of social protection goes beyond seeing women as mothers and carers and instead as recipients of social protection in their own right.

Iffat Idris (GSDRC, 2019)

This review drew largely on academic papers as well as reports by international development organizations. Evidence and hence lessons on how to combat forced marriage are limited and sometimes contradictory. Overall, the literature points to a number of approaches that can be effective, notably: empowerment of girls; community approaches to change social norms and attitudes on child marriage, and economic incentives (for girls and families); and, alternative opportunities (notably education, and income generation). Legislative approaches appear to be the least effective in combating child, early and forced marriage. However, different approaches need to be implemented together in order to bring about sustained change. The literature describes five key approaches to tackling CEFM (with some overlap between them): (i) Empowerment – focus on giving girls the information, skills and support structures they need to advocate for themselves and improve their own status and well-being, e.g. life skills training; (ii) Community – target parents and community members to influence attitudes to CEFM and change social norms, e.g. community education sessions; (iii) Economic – provide families with economic incentives or opportunities to offset the costs of raising girls and discourage them from marrying girls off, e.g. cash transfers; (iv) Schooling – enhance accessibility and quality of formal schooling for girls, as girls’ education is strongly associated with delayed marriage, e.g. provision of uniforms and school supplies; and (v) Legislative – aim to foster an enabling legal and policy framework to combat CEFM, e.g. raising the legal minimum age of marriage. A number of challenges are faced in evaluating the effectiveness of interventions to combat CEFM: lack of evaluations; lack of rigorous (randomized control trials, quasi-experimental studies) evaluations; failure to assess long-term impact of interventions; and programs often comprising multiple components making it difficult to assess which one(s) contributed to impact. This review looked at the findings of a) multi-program reviews, which collated the evaluation findings from a number of programs to combat child marriage, and b) evaluations of individual programs. The findings from the multi-program reviews and individual program evaluations do not clearly identify one/some approaches as being particularly effective. In some contexts, interventions to promote empowerment had a positive impact on delaying marriage, but in others, they did not. Similarly, provision of economic incentives to families led to significant reductions in child marriage in some programs but had no impact on others. This highlights the need for context-specific interventions, and for multiple component programs, which combine different approaches. Just as CEFM is driven by a range of factors, so programs to tackle it must-have components that address all the diverse factors. The findings also suggest that interventions can sometimes have unexpected, negative consequences – delaying marriage age in Bangladesh, for example, led to families having to pay higher dowries. Again, this points to the need for context-specific program design, taking into account all possible effects. Overall, the literature shows a clear dearth of rigorous evaluations of programs to combat CEFM: much more effort and resources need to be invested in generating evidence to inform future policies and programs.

Transparency, Accountability and Anticorruption

Guillermo Toral (SSRN 2019)

Does the provision of information about local bureaucracies to the politicians who oversee them decrease irregularities and improve bureaucratic effectiveness? Information interventions are appealing because of their solid microeconomic foundations and their relatively low costs. However, recent experimental studies of information campaigns aimed at fostering vertical accountability (between voters and politicians) have found mixed results. Providing information to politicians directly could be more powerful, given politicians’ direct responsibility for allocating and managing resources. Information may be particularly effective when provided by auditing institutions, given politicians’ susceptibility to sanctions by these horizontal accountability actors. I partnered with the audit court of the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Norte to experimentally study the effects of informing local politicians (both in government and in the opposition) about irregularities and performance in the bureaucracies they oversee. Outcomes are measured using administrative payroll data, a face-to-face survey of bureaucrats, and an online survey of politicians. Preliminary results suggest the treatment reduced the share of workers hired under temporary contracts, increased knowledge about rules among politicians, and changed politicians’ sense of accountability pressure from the state audit court.


Legislatures/Deliberative Bodies

UNDP (2019)

This Handbook provides guidance to parliamentarians on their role in supporting the WPS agenda. It is intended to equip them and those interested in working with MPs with tools to progress the WPS agenda with ideas for action, by showcasing real-life examples from other countries. The Handbook consolidates the lessons learned from UNDP’s Global Project on Parliaments and Civil Society as Partners Supporting the WPS Agenda and complements them with international best practice and evidence on the ways in which parliaments can support women’s participation in peacebuilding and security.


ICJ (2019)
The compilation is a unique practical resource for practitioners in official State justice systems and indigenous, traditional or customary systems. It is also intended to assist other community members, government officials, development practitioners, civil society organizations, and academic and other professionals who engage with such justice systems. The compilation is being published as part of an ongoing project on the relationship between indigenous and other traditional or customary justice systems and human rights, access to justice, and the rule of law. Among the sources included in the compilation are global and regional treaty provisions, UN and other declarations, and the jurisprudence and recommendations of Committees and Special Procedures established by treaties and the UN Human Rights Council. The sources are organized by themes including the rights of women, rights of children, the role of judges and lawyers and the administration of justice, the rights of indigenous peoples, the rights of minorities, and transitional justice. This revised edition incorporates new developments since 2018, including the landmark report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and expands to cover certain topics more comprehensively, particularly with respect to indigenous rights.


Siân Herbert (GSDRC, October 2019)

This rapid literature review examines the impact of, and lessons from, automating government processes in middle-income countries (MICs) and fragile and conflict affected environments (FCAEs).


Evidence Based Design

Kevin E. Davis (SSRN 2019)

Evidence-based regulation is a term of art which refers to the process of making decisions about regulation based on evidence generated through systematic research. There is increasing pressure to treat evidence-based regulation as a global best practice, including from US political interests hoping to tame the regulatory state, the OECD, international trade agreements, and academics. However, there are certain conditions under which evidence-based regulation is likely to be a less appealing method of decision-making than the alternative, namely, relying on judgment. Those conditions are: it is difficult to collect data, on either interventions or outcomes; accurate causal inferences are difficult to draw; there is little warrant for believing that the same causal relationships will apply in a new context; or, the decision-makers in question lack the capacity to undertake one of these tasks. These conditions are likely to be present in complex, transnational, decentralized and dynamic forms of business regulation that extend to relatively poor countries. The global anti-bribery regime is an illustrative case.

Journey to Self Reliance/J2SR

Bureau for Policy Planning and Learning, US Global Development Lab (USAID 2019)

The Paper Series on Capacity and Capacity Strengthening shares insights gleaned from a subset of the literature examined by the Self-Reliance Learning Agenda (SRLA) landscape analysis, with the aim of prompting further discussion. It notes that capacity and capacity strengthening are complex and contested terms, with practical implications for how development practitioners approach capacity strengthening with local partners. The literature examined by this landscape analysis engaged with issues of capacity at the organizational level, not at the country level as defined by USAID’s Self-Reliance Country Roadmaps, which examine how far a country has come in its ability to manage its own development journey across several dimensions including the ability to work across them. Additional analysis will explore country-level capacity, and will also further clarify how organizational capacity at the local and sub-national levels contributes to country-level capacity The papers address four inquiries: Inquiry 1: What are the Different Perspectives That Development Practitioners Have on Organizational Capacity?; Inquiry 2: How do Development Practitioners Determine What Capacity Already Exists Within an Organization?; Inquiry 3: How Should Development Practitioners Approach Strengthening Organizational Capacity with Local Actors?; and Inquiry 4: How Can Development Practitioners Strengthen Their Own Capacities to Better Facilitate the Journey to Self-Reliance?

Big Data

Iffat Idris (GSDRC, October 2019)

Big Data is an umbrella term for the large amounts of digital data continually generated by the global population. The main sources are data exhaust (largely from use of mobile phones), online information (e.g. social media), physical sensors (e.g. satellite imagery) and crowdsourced data (from citizens). Big Data for Development refers to sources of Big Data relevant to policy and programming of development programs. Such data has the following features: digitally generated, passively produced, automatically collected, geographically or temporally trackable, and continuously analyzed. Big Data analytics refers to the process of turning raw data into actionable information. The biggest source of Big Data is data exhaust, much of which is held by the private sector. Donor interest in Big Data for Development has increased hugely in recent years.

Message from the Editor

SUNY/CID welcomes new and continuing readers to its Governance Information Bulletin (GIB) which highlights recent articles of interest for development practitioners and scholars in the area of democracy and governance. Areas of attention include: (1) development and international foreign aid, including strategies of democracy and governance assistance; (2) development and political institutions including legislative development; local governance and devolution; and public sector performance improvement and (3) program design, measurement and evaluation

In addition, all previous issues can be found at the SUNY/CID website here.

We welcome all questions, comments and suggestions at cidgib@albany.edu.

David E. Guinn

In This Issue

* The Global State of Democracy 2019: Addressing the Ills, Reviving the Promise

* Defending Civic Space: Is the International Community Stuck?

* Focusing on Fragility: The Future of US Assistance to Fragile States

* Do Fragile and Conflict-Affected Countries Prioritize Core Government Functions?

* Empowerment and Accountability in Difficult Settings: What Are We Learning? Key Messages Emerging from the Action for Empowerment and Accountability Program

* Accountability Amidst Fragility, Conflict, and Violence: Learning from Recent Cases

* Democracy and Governance Innovations in Fragile Contexts: Promising Practices and Recommended Policy Changes

* Dilemmas and Trade-Offs in Peacemaking: A Framework for Navigating Difficult Decisions

* Preventing/Countering Violent Extremism Programming on Men, Women, Boys and Girls

* Community Cohesion Projects to Prevent Violent Extremism

* Lessons from Environmental Peacebuilding Programming

* "Sticking to Their Guns": The United Nations' Failure to See the Potential of Islamic Feminism for the Promotion of Women's Rights in Afghanistan

* The Politics of Gender-Responsive Social Protection

* Interventions to Reduce Forced Marriage

* Information, Oversight, and Compliance: A Field Experiment on Horizontal Accountability in Brazil

* Parliamentary Handbook on the Women, Peace and Security Agenda

* Indigenous and Other Traditional or Customary Justice Systems: Selected International Sources

* Automation of Government Processes

* The Limits of Evidence-Based Regulation: The Case of Anti-Bribery Law

* Self-Reliance Learning Agenda Paper Series on Capacity and Capacity Strengthening

* Benefits and Risks of Big Data Analytics in Fragile and Conflict Affected States

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