Conflict sensitivity tip sheet
This document is not official Government of Canada policy. It includes best-practice guidance on conflict sensitivity and links to external resources, and is aimed at current and potential organizations implementing projects that are funded by Global Affairs Canada (GAC), herein referred to as “implementing partners”.
In order to ensure that GAC-funded projects do not lead to unintended negative impacts, and go beyond “doing no harm” to also maximizing opportunities to build and strengthen peace, GAC encourages partners to adopt a conflict-sensitive approach in programming, policy and decision making. This includes but is not necessarily limited to project design, implementation, procurement, staff recruitment, monitoring and evaluation. GAC also encourages implementing partners to demonstrate a sound understanding of the local conflict dynamicsEndnote 1 in their proposed areas of operation, and how these dynamics affect and are affected by their proposed project.
What is conflict sensitivity?
All GAC-funded projects and implementing partners will have an impact in a particular context, especially in fragile and conflict-affected contexts. This impact can be positive, negative or both, and these impacts may be intended as well as unintended. Adopting a conflict-sensitive approach can help to enhance positive impacts and prevent and mitigate the risk of negative impacts, including violent conflict. Conflict sensitivity is an approach to ensure that interventions do not unintentionally contribute to conflict, but rather, strengthen opportunities for peace and inclusion.
Conflict sensitivity consists of 3 key steps:
- Understanding the context in which you operate to understand the peace and conflict dynamics and the interests and incentives of key actors.
- Assessing how your intervention might impact peace, conflict and gender dynamics, and unpacking risks and opportunities.
- Adapting your intervention to minimize harm and maximize opportunities to build peace and stability and being able to adapt in response to evolving conflict dynamics.
What does applying a conflict sensitive approach to project design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation involve?
Applying a conflict sensitive approach involves:
Understanding the context
- Ensuring a robust understanding of the peace and conflict dynamics in the wider context in which you intend to engage, as well as in your proposed areas of operation.
- Carrying out a gender-sensitive conflict analysis (see details below) is one way of developing this understanding of the context.
- Carrying out a conflict analysis during the inception stage that is prior to developing the project proposal or the project implementation plan, ensures that the findings can be used to inform project design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.
- Conflict analyses typically include, at a minimum, an analysis of the main drivers of conflict, the gender and conflict dynamics, key peace and conflict actors, the most likely future scenario/s and the opportunities to promote peace and inclusion.
- It is important to ensure that they not be restricted to only a desk-based study, and that the perspectives of local stakeholders from the planned project location are reflected in the conflict analysis, without putting them at risk.
- This could include local project implementers, beneficiaries and/or civil society. The conflict analysis can be carried out as part of a broader project design needs assessment, and by project staff, partner organizations and/or consultants, or a combination.
- Some GAC programs may require this analysis as part of the proposal or design stage and in some cases, GAC programs may be able to provide support based on individual program terms and conditions.
Using the findings of the conflict analysis to inform the project’s design and planned implementation approach
For example, by considering the following:
- How will the project contribute to addressing any of the conflict driversEndnote 2?
- How will the project strengthen peace and inclusion in the target locations?
- What or whom does the project target and how will beneficiaries be selected? Is the selection of beneficiaries inclusive of all sectors (that is every ethnic group, every social group, etc.)?
- Which parts of the country will be targeted?
- What unintended impacts could the project have on the conflict dynamics in the target locations as well as within the wider context, and what mitigation measures will be put in place?
Using the conflict analysis to inform what will be monitoredand evaluated over the project’s life cycle, and how
For example, by including indicatorsEndnote 3 and mechanisms for monitoring and evaluating the evolution of the conflict dynamics and the interaction between the project and the conflict, and putting in place gender-sensitive mechanisms to ensure that project beneficiaries can provide feedback on the project’s impact. In additional, disaggregating indicators by gender and other factors (for example, ethnic group, social group, etc.) can reveal how the project is impacting different groups and allow for a timely response.
Ensuring that the project’s risk-management strategy includes potential risks that the project may pose to the conflict dynamics
Risk mitigation typically involves identifying the risks that the context poses to an intervention and often does not involve analyzing the potential negative impact of planned activities on the conflict dynamics, and how to mitigate those risks. For example, is there a risk that project activities could:
- exacerbate existing tensions between groups?
- result in perceptions of bias and jeopardize the safety of staff and implementing partners?
- lead to the diversion of assistance by armed non-state actors or through corruption?
- favour one group over others (for example, women) and put members of that group at risk of violence?
Budgeting and planning for conflict sensitivity-related activities
For example, these activities may include:
- carrying out the conflict analysis
- holding periodic review meetings/workshops to update the conflict analysis
- organizing training and capacity building for staff and/or partners
- organizing periodic reflection workshops with local stakeholders
- obtaining beneficiary feedback
Many organizations may not have the in-house skills to carry out a conflict analysis or apply conflict sensitivity, and it will take time to build this capacity. In discussion with GAC, plan and propose budget items to carry out conflict analysis and critically assess the risks and opportunities associated with project activities. Each GAC program can approve eligible expenses in this area based on individual program conditions.
Reflecting conflict sensitivity in internal organizational policies and processes relating to human resources, procurement and communications
These are all areas where there is high potential for bias and tension. Conflict sensitivity can be included in the senior manager job descriptions as well as in recruitment, training and performance-management processes. Recruitment of staff in country offices can allow for a diverse range of views and perspectives. Conflict sensitivity can also be integrated in procurement policy and processes, and consider carefully from where and from whom goods and services are procured. This is very important for organizational communications policy, including the use of social media, which has a tremendous opportunity for positive or negative consequences.
Reviewing and updating the conflict analysis periodically
The conflict analysis should be reviewed periodically with your team, local partners and beneficiaries, and assessing whether changes to project activities and implementation approaches are needed in response to contextual changes, in order to minimize potential risks and capitalize on emerging opportunities to strengthen peace. Remember to keep GAC informed of how changing conflict dynamics may impact project implementation/delivery.
Are conflict sensitivity and conflict analysis the same thing?
While conflict sensitivity and conflict analysis are linked, they are not the same thing as they have different purposes/objectives. The purpose of conflict analysis is to improve understanding of the conflict dynamics, underlying drivers of conflict, and actors at the time of analysis. Conflict analysis is the first step toward becoming conflict sensitive. However, conflict sensitivity goes further; it is an overall approach to trying to understand how an intervention affects the context in which it is implemented and taking measures at all stages of project design and implementation to minimize negative and maximize positive effects of the intervention on the conflict dynamics. Conflict sensitivity requires understanding the context as well as assessing the two-way interaction between an intervention and the context, and making adjustments to ensure that the intervention “does no harm” and maximizes positive impacts.
What is a gender-sensitive conflict analysis?
Gender-sensitive conflict analysis is a structured process of analyzing the sources and dynamics of violence in a given context that takes into account the different experiences of girls, women, boys, men and non-binary people, with the objective of informing decision making and approaches to achieve more context-specific and gender-sensitive outcomes. When analyzing gender and conflict dynamics, the analysis should also consider intersectionality, in particular how different forms of diversity intersect with gender (ethnicity, religion, disability, age, etc.). Conflict analyses vary in scope, level, geographic focus, methodology, tools, structure and length. Various methodological options exist. For example, conflict analyses can be carried out by staff, consultants and/or local partners, or a combination of these. The method and tools selected will depend on a range of factors including:
- purpose of the conflict analysis
- available personnel
Conflict analysis methods include desk-based research, participatory workshops and interviews to obtain the perspective of different stakeholders. Most conflict analyses typically include an analysis of the following:
- Conflict profile/context
- What is the context that shapes the conflict?
- What is the history of conflict in the country/region?
- What political, economic, social, cultural and environmental actors, institutions and structures have shaped the conflict?
- How are women, men, girls, boys, non-binary people and the most marginalized and vulnerable impacted differently by this context?
- Conflict drivers
- What are the underlying factors driving conflict and instability?
- Gender and conflict dynamics (see Conflict Sensitivity Resources below)
- How are different groups affected by the conflict dynamics?
- What role do different groups play and how do they influence peace and conflict dynamics?
- How do gender differences intersect with other identities (age, social class, sexuality, gender identity, disability, ethnic or religious background, marital status or urban/rural setting)?
- Are there harmful gender norms that fuel conflict, exclusion and violence? How has the conflict influenced gender norms?
- Peace and conflict actors
- Which actors shape conflict and peace, directly and indirectly, at local, national and regional levels?
- What are their stated and underlying positions, interests, capacities and needs?
- Who is included and excluded in these processes?
- Who are the peace “spoilers”?
- Capacities for peace
- Which capacities exist within the context that can support and promote peace? This can be individuals, organizations, networks, processes, etc.
- What are the most likely future scenarios in the intervention target areas?
- How are the conflict dynamics expected to evolve over time, including in the project’s target locations?
- Are there any triggers that could escalate tensions?
Conflict sensitivity resources
A wide range of conflict sensitivity guidance and tools are available online. The following is a selection:
Conflict sensitivity toolkits and ‘How to’ guidance
- Introduction to conflict sensitivity (Video - 4 minutes) - International Organization for Migration (IOM), February 25, 2021
- Conflict sensitivity: What it is and why is it important (Video - 5 minutes) - Food and Agriculture Organization, July 2021
- How to guide to conflict sensitivity: Conflict Sensitivity Consortium (PDF version), February 2012
- The Programme Clinic: Designing conflict-sensitive interventions – Approaches to working in fragile and conflict-affected contexts. Facilitation guide - Food and Agriculture Organization, Rome, 2019
COVID and conflict sensitivity
- COVID-19 and conflict sensitivity: Rapid operational conflict risk and prevention tool - World Food Programme, 2020
- COVID-19 and conflict sensitivity Oxfam, June 2020
- Conflict sensitivity in response to COVID-19: Initial guidance and reflections Saferworld (PDF version), May 2020
- Gender analysis of conflict: Why is it important? (Video - 4 minutes) - Saferworld, July 6, 2016
- Gender-sensitive conflict analysis: Facilitation Guide Conciliation Resources and Saferworld (PDF version), October 2020
- Gender-sensitive conflict analysis GSDRC Topic Guide, April 2015
- Practical guidance for gender-sensitive conflict analysis - UN DPPA, CMI, PRIO, Norwegian MFA, Finnish MFA
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