Where to start with Conflict Sensitivity

Three main steps

  1. Understand the context in which you operate
  2. Understand the two-way interaction between your intervention and the context
  3. Use this understanding to avoid negative impacts and maximise positive impacts of your intervention on conflict dynamics

Understand the context in which you operate:

Conflict analysis is the systematic study of the profile, causes, actors, and dynamics of conflict. It helps development, humanitarian and peacebuilding organisations to gain a better understanding of the context in which they work and their role in that context. Conflict analysis provides a snap-shot of the context to an organisation, thereby providing an idea of what type of intervention fits in well with those settings.

Conflict Intervention

Conflict analysis can be carried out at various levels (e.g. local, regional, national, etc.) and seeks to establish the linkages between these levels. Identifying the appropriate focus for the conflict analysis is crucial: the issues and dynamics at the national level may be different from those at the grass-roots. But while linking the level of conflict analysis (e.g. community, district, region, or national) with the level of intervention (e.g. project, sector, policy), it is also important to establish systematic linkages with other interrelated levels of conflict dynamics. These linkages are important, as all of these different levels impact on each other.

The primary purposes of conflict analysis are to:

  • define new interventions and to conflict-sensitise both new and pre-defined interventions (e.g. selection of areas of operation, beneficiaries, partners, staff, time-frame). (Planning stage)
  • monitor the interaction between the context and the intervention and inform project set-up and day-to-day decision-making. (Implementation stage)
  • measure the interaction of the interventions and the conflict dynamics in which they are situated. (Monitoring and evaluation stage)

Conflict-sensitive planning is called for in contexts involving all points along the conflict spectrum (from latent to violent conflict), regardless of whether the project or programme is for humanitarian aid, peacebuilding, or development; or whether the intention is to address conflict directly or simply to avoid indirectly exacerbating tensions.

Two possible ways of incorporating conflict analysis into the assessment process are: by linking the conflict analysis to the needs assessment, or by integrating the conflict analysis and the needs assessment into one tool.


Understand the interaction between your intervention and the context:

Linking Conflict Analysis to the Intervention

A two-stage process:

Al Quraish, a development organisation in Sri Lanka, uses a two-stage process, but invert the stages so that the needs assessment process, a Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA), precedes the problem (conflict) tree analysis. The initial PRA maps the social welfare of the village, explores in particular the power relations by, for example, examining who benefits from government support, and the quality of people’s dwellings. The PRA is then supplemented by a two-day workshop, exploring with villagers the root causes of problems identified, using a problem (conflict) tree. For instance, if ‘poverty’ was the initial reason given for a child dropping out of school, the issue will be probed until a ‘problem jungle’ emerges, with multiple root reasons – frequent resettlement, destroyed identity documents, orphan status, etc.

Integrating Conflict Analysis into the Intervention

A one-stage process:

Agencies such as AHIMSA (Centre for Conflict Resolution and Peace) and Helvetas in Sri Lanka have found that emphasising stakeholder participation in the needs assessment process and making it as comprehensive as possible has reduced the likelihood of their work causing or exacerbating conflict. However, Helvetas noticed that attitudes and perceptions that affect conflicts were missing from existing appraisal tools. They decided to incorporate small complementary additions from conflict analysis tools into existing PRA methodologies to sensitise them, rather than develop a new assessment tool. A PRA might, for instance, reveal closer relationships among some actors than others. By incorporating elements of the Attitudes, Behaviours and Context Triangle they could explore why some relationships were closer and others more distant. Where relationships are noticeably distant they add a box to the PRA stating why.


Use this understanding to avoid negative impacts and maximise positive impacts of your intervention on conflict dynamics:

Conflict sensitivity is not a one-off activity. It is an approach to your work and presence. A conflict sensitive approach encompasses how you plan and set priorities, how you implement or carry out your work and monitor it, how you evaluate the success of your intervention and how you think about the impact of your overall presence.

Being conflict sensitive does not mean avoiding all kinds of conflict at all costs. If you are engaged in development work, for example, you have to accept that your work will inherently create some kinds of conflict as existing power relations and structures are challenged and, perhaps, modified. The challenge set by conflict sensitivity is to ensure that you fully understand the context in which you are working so that you can clearly think through how your particular development project will interact with existing power relationships, customs, values, fears, systems and institutions, and ensure that your work does not inadvertently end up doing more harm than good and is able to take on opportunities to contribute to peacebuilding outcomes.