Individuals working ‘in’ or ‘on’ war cannot be considered as neutral actors because their decisions have an impact on war itself. This chapter from a book, published by the Open University, 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’.
Practitioners have traditionally concentrated on their role as project managers and focused on ‘what they can control’, rather than addressing broader issues such as what they can understand and influence. Logical framework planning tools and other management systems create an illusion of control in rapidly changing circumstances. These initiatives are important, but they may, paradoxically, undermine an organisation’s capacity to operate responsively in a situation of violent conflict, especially if they lead to rigidity and a growing focus on internal processes, rather than the external environment.
Development agencies’ approaches to conflict include:
- Working around war: This is a ‘conflict blind approach’ which treats war as a constraint on development. Donors work around war because they have limited mandates or because their policies narrowly define security in terms of security of investments or commercial contracts, rather than human security and structural stability. Working around war is not good practice.
- Working in war: This approach acknowledges the war and tries to mitigate war-related risks and minimise the potential for programmes to exacerbate violence. This may involve the use of codes of conduct, operating standards and robust coordination mechanisms.
- Working on war: Involves an explicit focus on programmes that address conflict prevention, management or resolution. The few agencies that have an explicit focus on war tend to support work on reconciliation and human rights issues through civil society groups.
Practitioners should promote conflict-sensitive approaches by ‘working in war’ or ‘working on war’, depending on their mandate and context. This requires new levels of analysis, particularly around the decision-making process, which is shaped by political context, organisational environment and individual agency. In relation to this, key policy implications are:
- Practitioners intervening in highly political contexts will be perceived as political actors. They must consider their own position in the political context and the extent to which they can create political space or room to manoeuvre.
- Practitioners need to consider the capacities and interests of their own organisation and the wider institutional environment in which they operate. Organisational matters (funding, capacity and management) force pragmatic choices based on what is possible rather than upon what is desirable.
- Practitioners are often viewed as the unwilling agents of wider political and institutional interests. However, experience suggests that individuals do have agency and that practitioners have the capacity to make a difference despite organisational and political constraints.
- Stakeholders should undertake systematic, shared and transparent conflict analysis. Improved analysis does not necessarily guarantee better outcomes, but it is a basic precondition for those aiming to work ‘in’ or ‘on’ violent conflict.
- Practitioners must be able to convert analysis into practice. The risk-opportunities matrix – which highlights the war-related risks for the organisation or programme and peacebuilding opportunities – may be useful tool to develop responses that are appropriate in different types of contexts.
- No single approach will work in all conflict situations. The ‘do nothing’ approach must always be retained and assessed, particularly in a high risk-low opportunity scenario where the harm-benefit ratio may be high.