Citizen Security in El Salvador

April 9, 2014


A police officer in Zacatecoluca, El Salvador    

Vicoria Ojea / Banco Mundial

The Public Expenditure and Institutional Review in Security and Justice in El Salvador (PEIR) identified a number of entry points for reform in the sector. The objective of the Action Learning Approach for Citizen Security was thus to facilitate a consensus strategy on citizen security by: discussing available data and identifying indicators in the area of security; promoting national consensus over the main issues, challenges and opportunities facing the Security and Justice Sector; and sharing international experiences. Building upon the premise that the creation of pro-reform coalitions is a key element when designing and implementing reform processes, the Action Learning Approach offers a participatory methodology that brings together stakeholders involved in the citizen security tasks to jointly design and agree upon sector reforms.


While El Salvador has made great efforts towards democracy and institution building after the civil war (1980-1992), the incidence and consequences of crime and violence continue to be a roadblock for economic development in the country. Crime, violence, and citizen insecurity impose burdens on the country in both human and economic terms. Beyond the loss of life, crime and violence generate economic costs for individuals, families, businesses, and institutions in the forms of health expenditures, legal fees, work absences, and productivity losses that impact a country’s capacity to accumulate human and social capital. In this context, and taking into account the fiscal constraints facing El Salvador, increased public sector efficiency, including that of Security and Justice Institutions, is crucial for social development and growth.

The Security and Justice Sector in El Salvador consists of several state institutions that operate under different branches of Government. These institutions generally suffer from lack of coordination, duplication in their activities, and lack of data on the efficiency of the allocation and use of resources. Although the country has made an effort to create a forum for collaboration – like the Prevention Cabinet, or the Security Cabinet – cooperation and data exchange continue to be difficult due to the sensitivity of the issues dealt with and the lack of reliable and comparable statistics.


This activity aimed at providing a space for a structured dialogue among relevant public institutions, private sector, and civil society. The dialogue would be based on evidence and data provided by the Bank team, as well as by international experts bringing applicable experiences, in order to jointly prioritize and design a desired reform agenda for the sector.

The Team used a participatory "Action Learning Plan" methodology, an innovative approach developed in the World Bank and based on the premise that the creation of pro-reform coalitions is a key element in designing and implementing reform processes. Sustained, long term dialogue among stakeholders with competing interests is not usual in El Salvador, where the aftermath of the civil war can still be perceived in the polarization of views and interests.

The target coalition included representatives from the different stakeholder institutions and organizations, including representatives of various political parties. Engagement with stakeholders was maintained throughout the process to ensure ownership and participation. In the workshop that culminated in the efforts of the previous months, all stakeholders gathered and worked together to prioritize the issues and immediate actions needed to start drafting a consensus-based strategy to improve citizen security in the country. The working groups examined the data available, received the inputs from international and local experts, and then engaged in a constructive dialogue that gave matrices of immediate actions, the starting point of a longer process to draft a citizen security strategy. Stakeholders valued the opportunity to enhance and structure the debate.


This project successfully engaged representatives from the public sector, private sector, and civil society for a period of over seven months (September 2012 to May 2013) in which the team:

  • provided them with the data and information that would serve as background for the discussion
  • met with representatives of the groups to gather their inputs regarding useful international experiences;
  • worked with high level officials to explain the process and guarantee that key officials would attend the final workshop and designate a focal point for follow-up activities;
  • worked with representatives of all groups to follow up on preparation and guarantee active participation.

In May 2013, a 2-day workshop took place in San Salvador in which over 60 representatives of the stakeholders participated in 5 working groups [one for each security and justice task identified in the PEIR: 1) prevention,  2) vigilance and police patrolling, 3) investigation and formal indictment, 4) judicial process, and 5) sentence execution, imprisonment, and rehabilitation].

Each group held differentiated sessions on identification and prioritization of issues (based on the evidence and data provided), sharing of international experiences (there were 2 international experts per working group), and drafting of a results matrix. Finally, all groups got together to present the results of the matrices to the highest authorities in the Sector, who expressed the importance of continuing the work initiated with this activity, and develop the results matrices further to obtain a national action plan for reform. As a consequence, a follow up activity is to be implemented by the Bank in FY14/15.

Bank Group Contribution

The World Bank contributed US$140,000 in technical assistance.


The project was financed and implemented by the World Bank, in close coordination with the Ministry of Justice and Public Security, and other donors working on Security and Justice in El Salvador – in particular, Inter-American Development Bank, United Nations Development Program, Spanish Cooperation Agency (AECID), and the United Stated Agency for International Development (USAID).  

Moving Forward

A direct technical assistance follow-up operation financed by the World Bank and entitled “Action Learning Approach: Towards a Better Allocation of Resources in the Security and Justice Sector” (P147274) was approved in October 2013 and will be implemented until July 2014. This activity will focus on further facilitating the design of a consensus strategy for a more efficient allocation of public resources in the security and justice sector in El Salvador, and to enhance the capacity of the institutions in the justice and security sector for managing resources efficiently.

The new activity will continue to use the Action Learning Plan methodology by creating a participatory and results-oriented forum, in which multiple stakeholders come together to debate and design an action plan for reform. Knowledge exchange and peer-to-peer learning will be incorporated through a series of workshops in which experts from other countries in the region will provide regional feedback, and the creation of multi-stakeholder coalitions will be promoted to support the reform processes through the drafting and implementation of a consensus-based set of policy proposals.


The direct audience of the Action Learning Approach includes representatives of the government institutions, private sector and civil society that take part in the activities. These groups will benefit from increased knowledge and capacity that will expectedly inform public policy in the sector.

Salvadorians are the ultimate beneficiaries of a coordinated justice and security strategy and the collaborative effort of the country’s institutions and organizations.