Conflict-Sensitive Programming

How can "Do No Harm" be used in practice?

Conflict-sensitive project planning is possible. The "Do No Harm" framework for relief or development interventions and the "Reflecting on Peace Practice" concept for direct peace building offer two highly effective tools for working in situations of violent conflict. Only if planners and implementers are aware of the interaction between their programmes and the surrounding environment can they improve on their work. And only if the various factors influencing war situations are understood can peace builders be successful.

Working in Conflict:
The Use of "Do No Harm" in Humanitarian Assistance and in Development

Conflict Analysis

In order to assess the potential impact of a programme on a Context of Conflict, it is important to understand the conflict itself. Who are the two groups that are on the different sides of a conflict line, and how can the identities of the two sides be described? Once this is clear, it makes sense to further analyse the underlying causes and the effect that the conflict has on the relationship between the members of the two defined groups.

The "Do No Harm" framework uses five categories for analysing tensions in a situation of violent conflict, which are called Dividers or Capacities for War. They represent some of the characteristic features of the two groups in conflict and are usually easy to identify. These are the issues that people fight about and that are in the focus of the media once violence has erupted.

While Dividers are more or less obvious, they represent only one side of a conflict situation. Even though not strong enough to prevent the escalation of violence, there are always linkages between the two sides in a conflict situation, which could be used to counterweight tensions and to show people perspectives for co-existence. For development actors, it is essential to understand that other dimension, too. The "Do No Harm" concept emphasizes the analysis of these linkages, which are called Connectors or Local Capacities for Peace.

Understanding Impact

When "Aid" is provided in a context of conflict, it becomes part and parcel of the situation and thus of the conflict. Additional resources may mean a new incentive for fighting, particularly in situations where the competition over scarce resources is one of the causes of conflict. The distribution of goods, the provision of services, the interaction with the community and the conflict parties, the behaviour of staff, all this can contribute to the reinforcement of existing tensions or to the promotion of harmonious relationships. The "Do No Harm" framework helps organizations in understanding the components of their programme and to focus on the details that may have negative side-effects.

All relief or development programmes include the transfer of resources (food, health care, capacity-building), and it is essential to understand the Effects of Resource Transfers on the particular context. Project interventions from outside have an impact on the socio-economic, political and environmental situation in any case - in the context of violent conflict project staff has to be even more careful about who is benefiting and who is losing from the activities. In other words, it has to be considered whether the effects are reinforcing or weakening the Dividers and whether they are strengthening or undermining the Connectors.

By the ways in which development assistance is given and by the actions of staff, project interventions may also carry several Implicit Ethical Messages. These can affect the context of conflict by reaffirming certain mentalities found as a result of the traumatic experience in situations of on-going violence. Policies and guidelines of organizations, the interaction of project staff with the local population, the individual behaviour of those who are involved in project implementation, all this has a strong influence on the image that local people develop about a project. Development workers need to be aware about these messages transferred alongside their practical assistance, try to avoid the confirmation of harmful patterns and show examples of cooperation, respect, accountability and fairness instead.

Redesigning a Programme

It is rarely a whole programme that has a negative impact on a context of conflict. In many cases, however, there are some details of programming, some ill-considered decisions, some careless conduct, which have unintended side-effects on the relationship between the various groups in a conflict situation. A well-meant relief or development programme could consequently contribute inadvertently to the reinforcement of tensions or to the weakening of linkages. Knowing the context, understanding Dividers and Connectors, looking at the components of a programme and at their impact on the context through the mechanisms of Resource Transfers and Implicit Ethical Messages will reveal the shortcomings of an intervention. In case a particular decision reinforces one of the Dividers or undermines one of the Connectors, project implementers need to look for alternative ways of achieving their objective. There are always Options!

Project routines, organizational hierarchies or donor requirements often make staff believe that there are no other ways of "doing the job". This is seldom the case. Experience shows that options do exist and that creative aid workers have developed many of these that improve projects in context. This process can be supported through collective brainstorming, systematically analysing negative impacts observed and looking for alternative solutions together. Nevertheless, any option found to reduce a negative impact or to enhance a positive one must be checked again, against the other side of the chart. For any option avoiding a negative side-effect on the Dividers side, it must be asked what the impact on the Connectors would be. And for any option preventing the weakening of a Connector, the potential effect on the Dividers needs to be analysed.

A Seven Steps Approach

The application of the "Do No Harm" approach as described above involves seven consecutive steps. It is essential that all steps are followed with particular emphasis on step 5, during which the interaction of a project and the respective context is assessed.

Step 1:

Understanding the Context of Conflict

Step 2:

Analysing Dividers

Step 3:

Analysing Connectors

Step 4:

Unpacking the Assistance Programme

Step 5:

Understanding the Impact of the Programme on the Context of Conflict

Step 6:

Generating Programming Options

Step 7:

Testing Options and Redesigning

A detailed description of the seven steps approach is available in English and French and can be downloaded from this website (see "Material / For Implementers")
go to: Material / For Implementers