Confronting War: Critical Lessons for Peace Practitioners
This book is about the effectiveness of peace practice.
The findings in this publication are the result of a three-year examination of many practical experiences of peace practice.
The Reflecting on Peace Practice Project has involved over two hundred international, national, and local peace agencies around the world. Through a collaborative learning effort, these agencies have pooled their experience and their wisdom to reflect on, assess, and learn more about the practice of peace. The purpose of this effort was to learn from experience what has worked and what has not worked, and why. Many joined this effort because they wanted to improve their effectiveness; they wanted to see if, and how, they could have a greater impact on the ending of war and the achievement of peace. Organized by the Collaborative for Development Action (Cambridge, Massachusetts in the United States), the Reflecting on Peace Practice Project focused specifically on the peace practice of agencies that cross borders. It seemed clear that an international effort could not presume to improve peace practice undertaken by people in their own conflicts.
However, in so many current conflicts, “outside” peace practitioners join with local activists to partner in their work. Consequently, it was essential also to engage peace agencies from areas of conflict in this exploration of the ways that external efforts can be truly helpful.
The first step in learning from experience is to gather a great deal of it. Over an eighteen month period, RPP conducted twenty-six case studies on a wide variety of types of peace efforts, undertaken in a range of geographical settings, in different stages of conflict, at different levels of society, and with varying forms of connectedness to local, indigenous peace efforts. (Appendix 1 lists these case studies.) These case studies were done at the invitation of the agencies involved, to capture their internal reflections on their work, as well as the views of a wide range of counterparts – participants, partnering local and international NGOs and other agencies, communities affected by the work, representatives of relevant levels of government, etc. The cases were conducted through field visits to the areas where the programs were undertaken.
As these case studies were collected, RPP organized several consultations bringing together more than eighty peace practitioners—again both those who live in conflict situations and those who work outside their own countries. These practitioners reviewed and reflected on what the cases were telling us.
From the case studies and the consultations, a series of issues emerged as central to effective peace practice but around which there remain significant differences of experience and belief.
Eleven such issues were identified, grouped in three broad areas:
1) Cross-Cutting Strategy Issues
- Linkages between levels in peace work
- Roles and relationships between “insider” and “outsider” peace agencies
- Relationship between context analysis and strategy development
- Tradeoffs between working for the reduction of violence and for social justice
- Dealing with deliberate disruptions of peace processes
- Special issues and roles for humanitarian and development organizations
2) Understanding Impacts
- Indicators of impact
- Criteria for effectiveness
- Inadvertent negative impacts
3) Specific Approaches and Tools
- The role and impact of dialogues
- The role and impact of peace trainings
Papers were written that systematically recorded the experiences from the case studies and the consultations on each issue, and identified the areas where there was still ambiguous or incomplete evidence. These Issue Papers were then widely circulated for additional feedback.
The papers also formed the basis for a series of twenty-five “feedback workshops”, held over an additional fifteen months, for further learning about these issues. These workshops were held in sixteen countries, with over five hundred participants representing over one hundred agencies. (See Appendix 2 for a list of feedback workshops.)
In these workshops, experienced practitioners unpacked the issues further, seeking ways of handling them that could be helpful in future peace work. Again, the focus was on how cross-border peace practitioners could be more helpful. But, because to explore this it was essential to work with activists and agencies from areas of conflict, most of whom work in some form of relationship with “outsiders,” approximately one half of the participants in the workshops were activists who work on conflicts in their own countries or districts. Therefore, although RPP began with a focus on improving the peace work of “outsiders,” much of what is reported below also addresses the circumstances encountered by, and should be useful to, people working for peace within their own societies.