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Modus Operandi


Brussels, November 2007

Conditions for successfully dealing with conflict in humanitarian aid and development projects

A range of considerations for dealing with conflict.

  • 1. One essential precondition would appear to be a good and ongoing conflict analysis, such as by using the methodology proposed by Anderson. This asks what are the dividers and the connectors in a given conflict, and then seeks to strengthen the latter, for example by giving aid across lines of conflict, using multiethnic staff, and seeing that host communities benefit from assistance to internally displaced persons.(1)

  • 2. Avoid everything that might support war, be it materially or immaterially, through ethical messages transferred through one’s own actions.

  • 3. The Do No Harm approach emphasises that setting an example by one’s own standard of behaviour is very important for making a positive impact.

  • 4. Combining conflict transformation approaches with material aid or consultancy in other fields seems to work, both because it might tackle causes of conflict (poverty, imbalances of access to income), and because it gives the staff a chance to build up trust.

  • 5. Special conflict resolution skills are considered very useful. For example, in Germany the development services have now added such skills to the regular training program of staff being sent to projects dealing with conflict.

  • 6. The longer-term character of development approaches seems to be favourable to projects because it allows the staff to see and influence changes over a longer period of time.

  • 7. The partner approach is usually considered an absolute must by development organisations, in contrast to earlier experiences when, 30 or 40 years ago, the partner approach was not the general rule. With regard to Civil Peace Services which sometimes do not obey this rule, the danger of peace colonialism has been explicitly mentioned in interviews.

Though this might not mean that the development organisation per se is partisan in a given conflict, the partnership itself is something which other non-partisan organisations would reject as unsuitable to their work.(2)

On the other hand, Africa provides an example of a regional conflict about which one interviewed person stressed that the matter of non-partisanship grew in importance at the time his organisation started to get involved in the local conflict. To sum up: although the experience of development organisations seems to confirm that a non-partisan approach is important when one deals with conflict, what is meant by non-partisanship seems to depend on the situation and cannot be generalised, as for example choosing not to have formal local partners.


  • (1) : Anderson 2000. Dividers are sources for tension. For example, they may be contending over versions of history, real and perceived disparities between communities in resource allocations, presence of troops etc. Connectors on the other hand are things like a shared past, numbers of intermarriages, shared religious holidays and the like.

  • (2) : Like PBI in general or the above-mentioned CPS project in Bosnia. Both have argued that choosing a local partner would mean choosing one side in the conflict, and therefore would jeopardise the non-partisan approach of the work.