Reychler (2006) highlights the following ways for organisations to improve their conflict sensitivity:
- Reflective measures, whereby organisations at the headquarters level and individual staff make explicit their theories and thinking about conflict, violence and peacebuilding. This allows for external actors to understand the assumptions and attitudes that they and others have that will feed into all aspects of interventions and interactions with people in operating contexts.
- Political measures, which require acknowledgement that providing aid is a political activity with political consequences; alongside the assumption of political responsibility. This is the starting point for the adoption of conflict sensitivity – the understanding that aid actors and aid interventions are not neutral; and that donors have a duty to understand the contexts in which they operate and to ensure at a minimum that their interventions do not cause harm.
- Analytic measures, which involve familiarity with research, approaches and tools to understand conflict, conflict transformation and peacebuilding and achieve conflict sensitivity. This allows for the actual operationalisation of conflict sensitivity, by improving awareness of the potential or actual impacts of interventions on conflict dynamics and peacebuilding and helping to design more effective, coherent interventions.
There are various approaches and toolkits to guide thinking on conflict sensitivity and its operationalisation. Conflict sensitivity should inform all levels of interventions and all stages of a programming cycle (see How to guide, Ch. 2). A common central component of conflict sensitivity approaches and tools is conflict or political economy analysis, which provides an understanding of the interaction between the intervention and the context and informs conflict sensitive programming (Resource pack). Paffenholz (2005) emphasises attention to the actual implementation of programmes and involvement of aid agency staff in the assessment or planning of conflict sensitive cooperation. She identifies three approaches that encompass these considerations: Do no harm (Anderson and CDA), PCIA (Bush) and Aid for Peace (Paffenholz and Reychler).
Construction of water wells increasing conflict in rural Kenya: lack of conflict analysis
An international organisation decided to build water wells closer to remote villages, such that women no longer had to travel long distances. An unexpected outcome of the wells was an increase in family conflicts and inter-village conflicts. A subsequent study revealed that women would discuss, negotiate and resolve many community problems on their travels to and from the water wells. The organisation had not conducted a conflict analysis or analysis of the local capacities of peace prior to the intervention that would have revealed this issue. To compensate for this lost mechanism for conflict resolution, the organisation decided to work with the women and elders of the concerned villages to establish a network for conflict resolution.
Marthaler, E. & Gabriel, S. (2013) Manual: 3 steps for working in fragile and conflict-affected situations. Bern and Zurich: Helvetas
For more information on conflict and political economy analysis, see the conflict analysis section in the GSDRC conflict topic guide, and the section on fragile and conflict-affected states in the political economy analysis topic guide.
Do no harm (DNH) helps aid workers to identify conflict-exacerbating impacts of assistance, in particular how decisions and actions can affect inter-group relations. At its core is analysis of dividing and connecting issues and actors, which should be done with local partners and regularly updated during project implementation. It is important to understand how divisions are actually created. For example, ‘religion’ is often called a divider, but religion itself is not necessarily a source of tension. The question is how people use religion to cause divisions. Connecting elements should also not be overgeneralised. Infrastructure, for example, may be seen as a physical connector, but may be used in other ways that cause tension (Marthaler & Gabriel, 2013; see box above).
Primarily seen as a project level tool, the DNH framework has seven steps (see CDA, 2004):
- Identify which conflicts are dangerous in terms of their destructiveness, requiring DNH.
- Analyse ‘dividers’ – what divides groups and identify sources of tension.
- Analyse ‘connectors’ – how people remain connected across sub-group lines despite divisions created through the conflict – and understand local capacities for peace (LCPs).
- Conduct a thorough review of all aspects of the assistance programme.
- Analyse the interactions of each aspect of the assistance programme with the existing dividers/tensions and connectors/LCPs. For example, who gains and who loses from assistance?
- Examine steps one to four: if assistance exacerbates inter-group dividers, rethink how to provide the programme in a way that eliminates its negative, conflict-worsening aspects.
- Once a better programming option has been selected, re-evaluate the impacts of the new approach on the dividers and connectors.
Benefits derived from adopting do no harm include (Engelstad et al., 2008):
- Enabling communities and agencies to learn, and to speak, a common language, in particular the language of connectors and dividers. This should be tailored to local vernacular.
- Supporting careful and well-designed, non-divisive resource transfers (in terms of amount, type, method of distribution and who makes the allocation decisions).
- Encouraging ongoing monitoring and corrections of various aspects of the project, which also makes it easier to engage in post-project evaluation.
- Strengthening legitimate local groups and institutions (eg, markets) identified as connectors.
Barriers to the implementation of do no harm are similar to those of engaging in conflict sensitivity generally (see Challenges). They include (Engelstad et al., 2008):
- Incomplete organisational commitment and incorporation of DNH in an organisation’s policies and operational agenda, resulting in inconsistent impacts.
- The tendency of agencies to marginalise DNH in relation to general peacemaking activities.
- Lack of collaboration among agencies to promote DNH and to provide training.
Goddard (2009) also finds that, based on experience, initiatives that have attempted to create new or externally determined connectors between groups have not been effective and risk exacerbating tensions. Rather, actors should focus on strengthening existing connectors that bring people together.
DNH and Gender Analysis
DNH must include consideration of gender interactions, for example in its dividers and connectors analysis and in efforts to avoid reinforcing divisions and to strengthen connections. Women’s groups and activities, for example, may represent dividers when they represent only one side of the conflict. They could also serve as connecters through collaborations and joint enterprises, such as a hostel initiated by Tutsi and Hutu widows in Rwanda. Attention to programmes focused on young males (who were often former soldiers or likely targets for mobilisation) can also mitigate divisions and tensions (CDA, 2010).
The do no harm framework can be combined with other tools. The Safe and Effective Development in Conflict (SEDC) approach, developed by DFID and GIZ Risk Management Office combines do no harm, risk management (Van Brabant’s Operational Security Management tool) and good development practice with the aim of helping aid workers to conduct programmes safely and effectively in conflict environments, without exacerbating conflict. A key component of the approach is understanding perceptions – those of aid workers themselves and others (see NGO guidance and Donor approaches).
CDA. (2004).The do no harm handbook (The framework for analyzing the impact of assistance on conflict). Cambridge, MA: CDA Collaborative Learning Projects.
See full text
Wallace, M. (2014). From principle to practice: A user’s guide to do no harm. Cambridge, MA: CDA Collaborative Learning Projects.
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Dittli, R. (2011). International assistance in Gaza: Aiding fragmentation or unity? – A view from inside Gaza. Conflict sensitivity assessment. cfd – the feminist Peace Organisation; HEKS – Swiss Interchurch Aid; KOFF/swisspeace; PalThink for Strategic Studies, Gaza.
How does aid interact with conflict dynamics in Gaza? This report, based on interviews and focus group discussions, uses the ‘do no harm’ analytical framework of ‘dividers’ and ‘connectors’. It finds that international aid contributes to fragmentation along four key faultlines: the Fatah/Hamas factional split, the dividing effects of the Gaza blockade, the increasing differences between Gaza and the West Bank, and the general population’s alienation from their leadership and institutions. However, this fragmentation is reversible: joint values are still strong, and civil society is an important connector. A checklist of questions is proposed to help aid organizations intervening in Gaza ensure that their policies, programming, and partnerships are conflict sensitive.
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Engelstad, S., Otieno, M., & Owino, D. (2008). Do no harm in Somalia. Cambridge, MA: CDA.
Why has the DNH framework not taken hold among aid organisations in Somalia? This reflective case study, based on fieldwork, concludes that Somalia faces unique circumstances that have limited the spread of DNH, including clan-based fragmentation and logistical challenges arising from extreme insecurity. From 2002, DNH trainings were held in and outside Somalia, but follow-up was limited and interest declined. However, the need for DNH is great as there is a long history of aid reinforcing conflict dynamics. The top management of international agencies must adopt DNH with enthusiasm and ensure consistent implementation. More Somali trainers and Somali-language training materials are needed.
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Additional DNH case studies are available at: Collaborative Learning Projects (CDA)
Anderson, M. B. (Ed.) (2000). Options for aid in conflict: Lessons from field experience. Cambridge, MA: CDA Collaborative Learning Projects.
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CDA. (2013). Human rights and do no harm: guidance note. Cambridge, MA: CDA
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CDA. (2010). Do no harm: Additional model of the framework. Cambridge, MA: CDA.
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Goddard, N. (2009). Do no harm and peacebuilding: five lessons. Cambridge, MA: CDA.
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- Conflict Sensitivity Consortium. (2012). How to guide to conflict sensitivity. London: The Conflict Sensitivity Consortium. See document online
- Paffenholz, T. (2005). Peace and conflict sensitivity in international cooperation: An introductory overview. International Politics and Society, 4, 63-82. See document online
- APFO, CECORE, CHA, FEWER, International Alert, Saferworld. (2004). Conflict-sensitive approaches to development, humanitarian assistance and peacebuilding: Resource pack. London. See document online
- Reychler, L. (2006). Humanitarian aid for sustainable peace building. In P. Gibbons & B. Piquard (Eds.), Working in conflict – Working on conflict: Humanitarian dilemmas and challenges (pp. 135-154). Bilbao: University of Deusto. See document online