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Guide to Conflict Mainstreaming

As the peacebuilding and conflict resolution fields have grown over the past two decades, one of the trends is the importance of mainstreaming conflict resolution/peacebuilding across various sectors of development programming. While conflict resolution work in and of itself can be extremely valuable and have a significant impact on parties and reducing or preventing conflict, in order to generate long-term sustainable positive change, incorporating conflict resolution skills and processes into other sectors such as health, governance, education, gender, youth programming and more is critical.

Much of the development work in the world takes place in regions experiencing conflict. Effective development work is difficult to implement in situations of violence, or extreme instability. However, doing peacebuilding work as a stand-alone activity is not sufficient to create positive development. While creating greater understanding and dialogue between conflicted parties is an important step, there is a strong need to also generate economic, educational and health opportunities to help ensure that a society’s basic needs are met.

In this short guide, I would like to provide some recommendation regarding key resources and steps in creating conflict programing.

FIVE Key Steps in Conflict Mainstreaming

1. First Do No Harm– While Development and Conflict Resolution work has the potential to have a significant positive impact, it is also essential to examine the potential negative impact of activities (see the work of Mary Anderson and the Collaborative Development for Action or International Alert for more on this subject). Anytime resources are introduced into a conflicted area, there is the potential for increased tensions over how these resources are allocated.

2. Ensure Programming is Conducted in a Conflict Sensitive Manner – Similar to the concept of Do No Harm, professionals have a responsibility to ensure that programming is conducted in a conflict sensitive manner. From the initial stages of conceptualizing a project, to hiring staff, acquiring materials, implementation, staff can examine the potential negative and positive impacts of their programming decisions on the conflict context. For example, if a program is taking place in a conflict involving different identity groups, ensuring that the staff hired are diverse in nature can help to mitigate conflict (or perhaps exacerbate depending on the context). For more on conflict sensitivity see International Alert’s work on the topic at www.conflictsensitivity.org

3. Ensure that Peacebuilding is Integrated Across Sectoral Programming – In order for peacebuilding to be effective, it is necessary to conduct stand-alone and integrated programming. Stand-alone programming is generally when peacebuilding or conflict work is conducted as a particular discrete activity, such as a dialogue program to build relationships or understanding. However, in conflict settings groups have many needs to be fulfilled such as economic development, improving infrastructure, public health, governance and more. In each sectoral activity, in program design, strong emphasis should be placed on integrating peacebuilding into programming. For example, a public health project designed to prevent HIV, could also integrate peacebuilding into all aspects of the activity. This could be in training staff in conflict skills, bringing together health practitioners from across the conflict divide, ensuring that communities are engaged in programmatic decisions. For more on integrated peacebuilding, see a new book that I am co-editing with Dr. Robert Rubenstein, Building Peace: Practical Reflections from the Field (Kumarian Press, May 2009).

4. Conduct a Conflict Assessment – Conflict and peacebuilding programming needs to be based on local contexts and needs. A cookie cutter approach to implementing programing often is not effective. Thus, before beginning a new program, conducting a conflict assessment of the overall context is critical. Moreover, conducting a Peace and Conflict Impact Assessment to look at the potential impact of a project on the conflict context and vice-versa is essential. Some key resources on this topic include International Alert’s Conflict Sensitivity and also the Berghof Center’s Handbook series

5. Collaborate – In most peacebuilding and conflict interventions there are many local and international donors and civil society organizations carrying out activities. Often there is significant overlap and competition between intervening organizations. As practitioners we have a responsibility to practice what we preach and ensure that we are aware of other of the work of others at a minimum share information, and ideally work to collaborate on projects to maximize impact. See the work of Dr. Andrea Strimling Yodsampa and Dr. Susan Allen Nan in this area.

More topics are forthcoming. Feel free to add your own recommendations/comments regarding conflict mainstreaming.


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