Conflict sensitivity applies to all types of work, across humanitarian, development and peacebuilding sectors. Experience indicates that no intervention is neutral in a conflict context (Goldwyn, 2013). Nonetheless, agencies operating in various relevant sectors have failed to consistently apply a conflict sensitive approach to their interventions. This has been the case, for example, in security and justice sector reform (Goldwyn, 2013), economic recovery (International Alert, 2008), and natural resource and land management (Goddard & Lemke, 2013). This may be due to the assumption that interventions, which aim to address conflict dynamics and promote statebuilding and peacebuilding, are automatically conflict sensitive and pro-peace. This, however, cannot be assumed (see Challenges – faulty assumptions). Achieving intended impacts is particularly challenging in conflict-affected and fragile contexts – given the complexities of understanding such environments, difficulties with access, and rapidly shifting dynamics – let alone attributing causality to specific projects.
While each sector has distinct issues and questions to address in context analyses and in conducting conflict sensitivity, a consistent aspect of conflict sensitive approaches and peacebuilding found across sectors is the need to understand societal fault-lines and tensions (dividers) and to seek opportunities to build bridges (connectors) that contribute to strengthening social cohesion. In addition, Hoffman (2003) emphasises that while it is important to identify and analyse dynamics within difference sectors, it is equally important to understand how various sectors inter-relate and the implications of such dynamic interaction. This will improve the ability to assess and evaluate the positive or negative impact of particular interventions and the cumulative and spill-over effects of projects.
For discussion on social cohesion and rebuilding relationships in conflict contexts, see GSDRC guides on state-society relations and citizenship in situations of conflict and fragility (intra-society relations and civic trust and citizenship); and conflict (social renewal).
For further discussion on aspects of statebuilding and peacebuilding, see GSDRC guide on statebuilding and peacebuilding in situations of conflict and fragility.
The various needs of conflict-affected and fragile states extend beyond the reach of any one project or programme. The range of interventions should be coordinated within a multi-tiered framework that is consistent in terms of analysis, aims and methods to achieve them (Izzi & Kurz, 2009). Efforts to infuse conflict sensitivity into strategic and policy frameworks have been growing over the last 10 years. Recognising that poverty and conflict are closely interrelated, the World Bank implemented a 4 year programme in the mid-2000s aimed at improving the conflict sensitivity of country poverty reduction strategy frameworks. Key aspects include the need for good contextual analysis and the flexibility to respond quickly to changing situations and to produce alternative options. The United Nations too began exploring how to integrate conflict sensitivity into UN planning and programming, including using formal planning processes such as UN Development Assistance Frameworks (UNDAFs) as a strategic entry point for conflict sensitivity in post-conflict settings.
There are now various overarching policy frameworks that address conflict sensitivity, such as the ‘New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States’, developed through the forum of the International Dialogue for Peacebuilding and Statebuilding. The New Deal aims to mitigate risks from providing aid in conflict-affected and fragile contexts and emphasises the need for periodic country-led fragility assessments. The OECD’s ‘Principles for Good International Engagement in Fragile States and Situations’ also include the importance of context analysis and do no harm.
Strategies for conflict sensitive interventions should build on and integrate with overarching policy guidelines along with strategic programming and policy frameworks across various sectors. Translating policy guidelines into national policies and strategies, and implementing related organisational changes within donor governments, remains a challenge. In addition, Manning and Trzeciak-Duval (2010) emphasise that a key gap in coverage of the OECD Principles concerns the role of the private sector and economic growth. They stress the importance of improved coherence across various policy domains.
Through an examination of four cases (Liberia, Sierra Leone, Burundi and Afghanistan), McCandless and Tschirgi (2010) suggest that four criteria, each with their own challenges, are required for strategic frameworks to contribute to peacebuilding: 1) context analysis and context/conflict sensitivity; 2) enhanced capacity of national actors; 3) coherence, coordination and integration among actors and activities; and 4) mutual accountability amongst actors.
Manning, R. & Trzeciak-Duval, A. (2010). Situations of fragility and conflict: aid policies and beyond. Conflict, Security and Development, 10(1), 103-131.
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McCandless, E. & Tschirgi, N. (2010). Strategic Frameworks that Embrace Mutual Accountability for Peacebuilding: Emerging Lessons in PBC and non-PBC Countries. Journal of Peacebuiling and Development, 5(2), 20-46.
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Cordaid. (2012). Integrating gender into the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States. The Hague: Cordaid.
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Journal of Peacebuilding and Development. (2010). Special Issue on Advancing Coherence and Integrating Peacebuilding in Strategic Policy Frameworks 5(2).
OECD. (2011). International engagement in fragile states: Can’t we do better? Paris: OECD.
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World Bank. (2007). Toward a conflict-sensitive poverty reduction strategy. A retrospective analysis: 2nd edition. Washington, DC. World Bank.
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United Nations. (2005). Lessons learned workshop: integrating conflict sensitivity into UN planning and programming. 23-24 May, Turin, Italy.
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- Goldwyn, R. (2013). Making the case for conflict sensitivity in security and justice sector reform programming. Care International See document online
- International Alert. (2008). Building a peace economy in Northern Uganda: Conflict-sensitive approaches to recovery and growth (Investing in Peace, Issue No. 1). London: International Alert. See document online
- Goddard, N. & Lempke, M. (2013). Do no harm in land tenure and property rights: Designing and implementing conflict sensitive land programs. Cambridge, MA: CDA. See document online
- Hoffman, M. (2003). PCIA methodology: Evolving art form or practical dead end? In A. Austin, O. Wils, & M. Fischer (Eds.) Peace and conflict impact assessment: Critical views on theory and practice. Berlin: Berghof Research Centre for Constructive Conflict Management. See document online
- Izzi, V. & Kurz, C. (2009). Potential and pitfalls of conflict-sensitive approaches to development in conflict zones: reflections on the case of North Kivu. (Paper presented at ISA Annual Convention, New York, 15-18 February). See document online