Conflict Sensitive Integrated Program Framework

As part of a training workshop on conflict sensitive thinking the framework was introduced to a set of representatives from the United Nations country team, in a workshop organised by the United Nations Development Programme Kenya country office. The tool was introduced and further developed with a mixed group of practitioners and policy makers working for UN agencies and partner organisations in the post-election conflict context of Kenya.

Context outline:

The announcement of the results of the December 27, 2007 Kenyan election was followed by unprecedented and widespread violence that devastated Kenyan society and shocked the world. Within hours of the announcement of the results on December 30th, extreme violence erupted in most parts of the country. Widespread mob and police violence in the weeks that followed left over 1,000 people dead. (Wachira 2010)

Over half a million were on the move, displaced from their farms and homes both in the rural areas and urban centres. As law and order quickly broke down, the dispute among the political leaders created a leadership and power vacuum, ruling out any acceptable official response. The survival of Kenya as a country was severely threatened. (Wachira 2010)

This eruption of violence led many development stakeholders and peacebuilding practitioners to think long and hard about the effectiveness of their work. Many of the development gains that had been made were swept aside in the wake of the violence. The rapid escalation of the conflict and the destruction that followed brought with it a realisation that much of the development work that had taken place had either ignored or simply been unaware of the extent of the latent conflicts and deep rooted tensions that characterised Kenyan society.

In response to this realisation UNDP embarked on a process aimed at strengthening their own capacity and those of their partners to enable a more effective response to the residual tensions and ongoing underlying conflicts.

Conflict sensitive development workshops:

The following extract is taken from the Terms of Reference (ToR) for the subsequent workshops organised by UNDP. These ToR articulate the thinking behind the response that led to the introduction of the Integrated Framework:

Working with a group of representatives from community-based organisations, local partners and the UNDP country team, the Conflict sensitivity Framework formed part of a strategic review and capacity building workshop. This workshop focused on influencing the development interventions of the UNDP and its partners to become more conflict sensitive.

The dialogue process:

The process that was followed began by introducing the framework into the context of a workshop that had its own wider agenda, and in which a number of introductory and relationship building processes had set out to create the space for a discussion characterised by some level of trust and openness.

After the framework was introduced participants were asked to relate the theories contained in the framework to their own practical experiences and the real programming examples that they were involved with. The key question was whether or not the forms of thinking contained within the framework were already part of the planning and monitoring processes or not.

Participants then worked in groups of mixed representatives working their way steadily through s series of questions related to the framework and outlined in this assignment in narrative description of the framework. Critical and analytical insights that emerged in the small group discussions were then fed back into the whole group. In addition participants were asked to suggest ways in which the framework could be strengthened.

In the workshop some time was then allocated to isolate the challenges involved in shifting programmes and in encouraging organisations to align themselves more closely to the conflict sensitive approach suggested by the framework. More group work then looked at ways in which these challenges could be overcome, particularly with a more supportive and better coordinated approach between stakeholders.

Process outcomes:

The discussion that took place amongst participants from the various UNDP programmes that formed part of the Country Team was lively and animated. In reflecting on their work several participants cited examples of how their programmes appeared to ignore several elements contained within the framework.

In particular many programmes failed to carry out any kind of meaningful conflict analysis of the local context within which they were working. Most were overly reliant on the overarching UN Development Assistance Framework, that contained some conflict analysis, but that was usually carried out by external consultants and scarcely referred to in the programming cycle.

The relatively short-term programming cycle, constrained by budget cycles and bound by project agreements that were more focused on outputs than process, also worked against long term forms of development thinking. Participants recognised this as an internal systems fault that undermined the potential of programme interventions to contribute to deeper social transformation.

Throughout the discussions it also became clear that while individuals could offer examples of the kinds of values and principles they believed informed the developmental approach these were by no means shared across the Country Team. This resulted in lively disagreement and a strong call to the senior UNDP management to engage staff more vigorously in developing a common value-based approach to each of the country programmes component parts.

An initial set of principles and values was developed that will be used to inform a wider discussion within the institution. These included values of empowerment, recognition of diversity, valuing local knowledge, respect and tolerance. Some of the principles concerned the need for bottom up approaches to development, a need to employ a connectors and dividers lens in anticipating and monitoring programme impact and an outline of the elements that should be included in an analysis of the conflict context.

The most telling part of the discussion concerned that surrounding the different visions of the participants. It became clear that there were widely different developmental paradigms within the group, and that the differences underlying these paradigms had never previously been discussed. While many in the group were more concerned with economic development, focused on meeting the basic needs of the people they were working with, others introduced elements to the vision that were more focused on the relational aspects of what a developmental vision might contain. Issues of gender relations, the empowerment of marginalised groups and what these issues would mean for a future society, as well as concerns around sustainability and the protection of local resources also arose as subsets of the debate.

While much of this discussion was inconclusive it served the useful purpose of pointing out and making explicit some of the underlying considerations critical to a conflict sensitive development intervention. As with all organisational change processes the workshop, and the critical discussions that it raised, served more as an initiator of the deeper more institutional change processes that will need to follow.

Recommendations emerging:

The workshop culminated in a series of recommendations to organisation representatives not present at the workshop. Recommendations were developed that aimed to address both the analytical gaps and the internal systems challenges, backed up and supported by some of the issues presented and discussed in the workshop.

Participants also undertook to recreate some of the discussions from the workshop within their programme teams, using some of the models and frameworks that were introduced in the workshop. These discussions would be focused particularly on those areas concerned with discussing the values and principles that informed the programme as well as the need for greater clarity on the developmental paradigm informing the overall vision of the country team.

These recommendations and commitments were taken back for further discussion, in an effort to try and influence development planning and implementation approaches beyond the participants themselves.

Critical discussion:

The Framework has been well received in a number of different contexts though it also presents those who find it useful with a broader challenge linked to the complexity of institutional change processes. The framework intentionally links internal organisational change processes to the developmental agenda itself. If these internal change processes can become part the broader planning process then the Conflict Sensitivity Framework provides a shared point of reference that is useful for encapsulating the range of issues that need to be considered as part of a conflict sensitive approach.

The value of the framework rests on the dialogue processes that it has the ability to generate and is perhaps overly reliant on the self-reflective capacity that it is requires in order to really make a difference. This ability to reflect on practice requires some degree of honesty and openness, which is often missing at an institutional level. The pressures of time and limited resources are likely to influence practitioners to cover up examples of poor practice. This limits the ability of institutions to learn from themselves.

As with all tools the value of the conflict sensitivity framework is also dependent partly on how it is applied in practice. Goddard points out the dangers of models that seek to provide solutions that can be applied across several contexts. Goddard argues that,

"There is no formulaic approach to using any tool. A tool cannot substitute for knowledge or thinking, but it is something a thinking person uses to do better work." (Goddard 2009:5)

This general insight applies equally to the potential value and limitations of the Conflict Sensitivity Framework. As such it serves only to provide additional areas of focus in the consideration of what a more conflict sensitive, more transformative approach to development might entail.