Beginning in the mid-1990s, Anderson’s research and the Do No Harm project led the way for the field of conflict sensitivity (see the Do no harm section). In 1998, Kenneth Bush developed the Peace and Conflict Impact Assessment (PCIA) methodology, comparable to environmental or gender impact assessment (see the PCIA section). Both do no harm and PCIA were originally focused on the project level and targeted at NGOs, however they were soon adopted and adapted by donor agencies and other organisations.
By the mid to late 2000s, the term ‘conflict sensitivity’ was used extensively in the development field and agencies increasingly aimed to mainstream conflict sensitivity. While concerted efforts among donors to engage in joint evaluations and develop principled conflict sensitive engagement have increased from the late 2000s onwards, challenges to operationalising conflict sensitivity remain (Brown et al., 2009; Paffenholz, 2005).
Although the field of conflict sensitivity originated in the humanitarian field, it has subsequently been championed by the peacebuilding community, with some challenges remaining for humanitarian actors and ongoing debate within the humanitarian community about its advantages and disadvantages. More recently, conflict sensitivity has been applied to statebuilding. The OECD (2010) emphasises that do no harm is as applicable to statebuilding as it is to peacebuilding. Donors need to understand the fragile contexts in which they operate and avoid inadvertently undermining statebuilding. The method of aid delivery, for example, can act as a disincentive for states to consolidate their own revenue base, undermining the development of state capacity (OECD, 2010).
Conflict sensitivity, peacebuilding and statebuilding are distinct concepts. While peacebuilding and statebuilding are particular fields or types of intervention, conflict sensitivity is an approach that applies to all interventions (Goldwyn & Chigas, 2013). In addition, while a conflict sensitive intervention must avoid causing harm and should contribute to peace where possible, it is generally perceived to differ from peacebuilding in that it does not need to address causes or drivers of conflict (Goldwyn & Chigas, 2013). There is, however, a spectrum of ambition that exists in conflict sensitive approaches and interventions, which is often unrecognised. Conflict sensitivity can be understood beyond this minimalist sense. A maximalist position also aims to address the root causes of conflict and to contribute to broader societal-levels of peace (Woodrow & Chigas, 2009). At the other end of the spectrum is a ‘conflict blind’ approach, whereby donors avoid the issue of conflict and treat it as an externality. Goodhand (2006) categorises these positions as:
- Working around war: actors seek to avoid the negative impacts of conflict on programming by choosing to focus their efforts in areas of peace; or engage in ‘one-size-fits-all’ interventions in environments that are vulnerable to conflict. This is seen as counterproductive in effectively addressing chronic poverty.
- Working in war (minimalist): actors are aware that development can influence conflict and try to mitigate war-related risks and minimise the potential for programmes to exacerbate violence. This may involve codes of conduct, operating standards and robust coordination mechanisms (e.g. the Basic Operating Guidelines in Nepal).
- Working on war (maximalist): actors are also aware that interventions can contribute to peacebuilding and aim to deliver programmes that address conflict prevention, management or resolution.
As levels of ambition increase and aid actors incorporate peacebuilding goals in their interventions, it is necessary to continue to incorporate and monitor ‘working in war’ aspects as a minimum standard.
Barbolet, A., Goldwyn, R., Groenewald, H., & Sherriff, A. (2005). The utility and dilemmas of conflict sensitivity. Berlin: Berghof Research Centre for Constructive Conflict Management.
This paper explores the relevance and growth of conflict sensitivity beyond traditional humanitarian and development sectors, to government, the private sector and peacebuilding. Conflict sensitivity is an investment in learning about the conflict context and a responsibility to act on that learning. Whilst operational guidance is important, it should not come in the form of a ‘one-size-fits all’ approach. A more encompassing approach that goes beyond tools and methodologies is needed.
See full text
Goodhand, J. (2006). Working ‘in’ and ‘on’ war. In H. Yanacopulos, and J. Hanlon (Eds.), Civil war, civil peace. Milton Keynes: Open University.
Individuals working ‘in’ or ‘on’ war cannot be considered as neutral actors because their decisions have an impact on war itself. This chapter argues that those who intervene in conflict situations need to think of themselves less as project managers and more as change agents who understand and influence the conflict. Interveners need to look beyond the traditional project-based approaches and engender a strategic shift from ‘development as delivery’ to ‘development as leverage’.
See document summary
OECD DAC. (2010). Do no harm: international support for statebuilding. Paris: Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
How can donor interventions hinder or assist statebuilding processes? This report from the OECD DAC draws on country case-studies to examine how interventions affect key areas of statebuilding. Donors operating in fragile states need to analyse where their own countries’ strategic objectives contradict statebuilding objectives and where statebuilding objectives are themselves at odds.
See full text
Woodrow, P. & Chigas, D. (2009). A distinction with a difference: Conflict sensitivity and peacebuilding (Reflecting on Peace Practice Project, CDA Collaborative Learning Projects). Cambridge, MA: CDA
How are peacebuilding and conflict sensitivity distinct? Although the two concepts overlap, confusing them leads to flawed programme design. This paper uses examples to challenge common myths and misconceptions, demonstrating that: conflict sensitive humanitarian assistance does not necessarily help bring peace; peacebuilding does not equal conflict sensitive development; there is only a very weak connection between ‘normal’ development work and conflict prevention; and peacebuilding is not automatically conflict sensitive.
See full text
- Paffenholz, T. (2005). Peace and conflict sensitivity in international cooperation: An introductory overview. International Politics and Society, 4, 63-82. See document online
- Brown, S., Goldwyn, R., Groenewald, H., & McGregor, J. (2009). Conflict sensitivity consortium benchmarking paper. Conflict Sensitivity Consortium. See document online
- Goldwyn, R. & Chigas, D. (2013). Monitoring and evaluating conflict sensitivity: methodological challenges and practical solutions (CCVRI Practice Product). Cambridge, MA: CDA See document online