Conflict Assessment & Peacebuilding Planning

Overview of the Book

Why Conduct a Conflict Assessment?

Our analysis or understanding of conflict and violence shapes our response to it.

  • Conflict assessment improves efforts to prevent and respond to violent conflict and mass atrocities by accurately identifying and prioritizing factors driving conflict and supporting peace.  Conflict assessment can improve the effectiveness and sustainability of efforts.

  • Conflict assessment reduces the chance for negative second and third order effects that are counterproductive to goals of peace and security.

Many planners understand that “you have to go slow to go fast.”  A rush to action often means well-intentioned action can have tremendous counterproductive effects.

Overconfidence:  “Can do” attitudes and fear of “analysis paralysis” means people skimp on research for conflict assessment. A lack of humility to “know what we don’t know” can lead to policies and programs based on untested assumption and uniformed guessing.

Untested Assumptions: People tend to reinforce their preexisting views of conflict.

Organizational Interests: Existing organizational capacities too often shape conflict response programs instead of actual assessments of conflict drivers and mitigators.

What Does Conflict Assessment Include?

Conflict assessment is not the same thing as a needs assessment, context assessment or intelligence assessment.  Conflict assessment - also known as conflict analysis - is an interactive research process.  It conceptually organize factors driving conflict and supporting peace to enable more effective peace and security policies, programs and projects.

Governments, universities and NGOs around the world have developed a variety of similar conflict assessment frameworks.  A synthesis of these frameworks boils down to these components.  These six questions link directly to decisions relevant to planning. 

WHERE is the conflict taking place?  Are governance institutions functioning?

WHO is driving the conflict and who is supporting peace?

WHY are the key actors motivated to drive and mitigate conflict?

WHAT are the driving and mitigating factors?

HOW are key actors driving or mitigating conflict? With what means?

WHEN did the conflict escalate or deescalate in the past and what is the forecast for future windows of opportunity or vulnerability?

 Many other conflict assessment frameworks focus solely on conflict without examining local capacity, resilience, or factors mitigating conflict and supporting peace.  This approach maps existing capacities and conflict mitigators as well as conflict drivers.

Factors Driving Conflict includes a range of lenses to map stakeholders and their means, motivations, and core grievances, to map relationships between driving factors, and to identify issues arising from the local context and windows of vulnerability given the historic legacy of the conflict.

Factors Mitigating Conflict
includes a range of lenses to map stakeholders supporting peace, to identify local traditions, values, and institutions supporting resiliency and social capital, and to assess possible windows of opportunity for peacebuilding.

Who Should Participate in Conflict Assessment?

Conflict assessment requires dialogue with diverse stakeholders from within the context as well as outsiders.  There are often significant gaps between the assumptions outsiders have about what is driving conflict and the insights offered by insiders who live locally.

Too often, governments use rapid conflict assessment teams or red teaming, asking foreigners to “play” the role of insiders. These assessment teams are not adequate.  In an effort to save time, organizations fill out a conflict assessment framework with their own best guesses.  An individual or group will conduct a conflict assessment sitting at a desk, thousands of miles away from where the conflict is happening.  Sometimes, organizations send in foreign teams who use local translators to interview a dozen or two government officials or elite civil society representatives. But this too leads to skewed analysis.

Without greater input by diverse local stakeholders, there is no way for assessment teams to guess the values and underlying worldview assumptions of a foreign culture or know how to map existing local capacity.  Too often, conflict assessment teams are overconfident of their ability to understand local dynamics in a foreign country and lack understanding the inherent bias in any one person or group’s perspectives.  This results in inaccurate assessments based on untested assumptions that then lead to planning programs based on a faulty theory of change.

Instead, multi-stakeholder conflict assessment forums that include diverse sectors of civil society, business, media, government and outsider/foreigners provide an ongoing insight into shifting local dynamics and function as peacebuilding interventions that can positively impact the conflit.  On the ground teams of insiders and outsiders can also work together to monitor local media, polling, conduct focus groups and interviews to produce rolling conflict assessment report for donor communities. Conflict assessment research should be participatory using trained researchers who can facilitate group discussions and focus groups.

Data Quality is Critical to Effective Conflict Assessment

A good conflict assessment framework is not enough. Inaccurate or inadequate data put into a perfect framework will still result in a faulty conflict assessment. This wastes time and money on interventions that do not work.

This handbook includes guidance on the research process including how to:

Gather data sources
that are accurate, reliable and triangulated. Data sources include books, reports, blogs, news articles, twitter feeds, polling, interviews, focus groups, observations and the interactive methods described in this handbook for use in multi-stakeholder workshops.

Evaluate the quality of each data source. Identify gaps in data or places where there is uncertain or contradictory data. Identify hypotheses for why data may be conflicting. Make a plan to gather further information. 

Researchers should ask:

  • What information are we missing?
  • Whose perspectives do we need to seek out?
  • What research process could we use to discover this information?
Turning Conflict Assessment with Peacebuilding Planning
The handbook offers conceptual frameworks for synchronizing the conflict assessment framework with self-assessment, conflict assessment, theories of change, design, monitoring and evaluation to achieve better policy coherence and a comprehensive approach to conflict prevention and peacebuilding.

  1. Self assessment is a process of identifying ones own cultural biases, perspectives, interests, and assumptions about a conflict, and then identifying ones own resources, capacities and networks to prioritize planning on what is possible and pragmatic. Self-assessment is an ongoing process throughout the entire cycle of assessment through evaluation. Conducting a self-assessment identifies your own cultural biases and perspectives on the conflict. The Conflict Assessment and Peacebuilding Planning handbook includes a set of self-assessment questions to examine the potential strengths and challenges of the group planning a peacebuilding effort. Questions include: 

    WHERE will you work?

    WHO will you work with?

    WHY will you do what you do?

    WHAT will you do?

    HOW will you shift power sources in support of peace?

    WHEN is the best timing for your peacebuilding efforts?

  2. Theories of Change or the “program rationale” elicits and identifies the perceived logic between the key factors driving conflict or supporting peace and what type of peacebuilding effort will build peace and prevent violence. How do people think change will come about? What are their stories, parables, metaphors and ideas? The Conflict Assessment and Peacebuilding Planning handbook identifies a broad range of theories of change in use by diverse stakeholders today.  Ideally planners examine research related to these possible theories of change to evaluate their likely impact.
  3. Designing and Planning is a process of identifying SMART goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. Planning includes deciding whom you will work with, what you will do, and where and when you will do it. The conflict assessment framework asks questions that directly link with the process of designing and planning peacebuilding efforts. The Conflict Assessment and Peacebuilding Planning handbook details how to develop strategies to move from micro to macro impacts by scaling up peacebuilding efforts in a variety of ways. It outlines a planning log frame to lay out the goals, key audiences, activities, timeframes, outputs, outcomes and impacts of the peacebuilding effort.
  4. Monitoring and Evaluation (M & E) includes measuring short-term outputs and outcomes as well as long-term interrelated impacts of multiple actors, multiple programs and multi-sectors. Ideally, the indicators chosen for monitoring and evaluation link to the identified theories of change. Research methods collect data for these indicators based on expected outputs, outcomes, and impacts and levels of sustainability of the peacebuilding effort. Ultimately, a variety of peacebuilding efforts should synchronize and harmonize with each other to impact broader human security indicators.
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