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Modus Operandi

En librairie

Transformation de conflit, de Karine Gatelier, Claske Dijkema et Herrick Mouafo

Aux Éditions Charles Léopold Mayer (ECLM)


Brussels, novembre 2007

Peace teams: Decision-making, communication, composition, behavioural ethics, stressors and other problems

Decision-making, communication, specialisation

”Consensus process does not aim for unanimity, nor even for each group member to be totally satisfied with a particular decision. It does aim for complete support.” (1)

All teams studied rely on consensus to make decisions within the team. Not all have a specific plan for how to handle an urgent situation when consensus could not be reached in a reasonable amount of time.

SIPAZ works with a consensus model at all levels of the organisation. SIPAZ works with a consensus model at all levels of the organisation. The team itself has a coordinator whose leadership is respected in a crisis. All are subject to decisions by the Board of Directors. (2) WfP teams and delegations make decisions by consensus, but in danger a leader may make a decision. The field staff member in Managua may say to the delegation or team, “You need to come back.” (3)

Consensus is a core value of PBI. It is mandated and used on every level of the organisation: ”Within PBI, consensus decision making is not simply instrumental; it is not just one among many possible ways to accomplish organisational tasks and goals. It is understood, rather, as concretely expressive, even prefigurative of the sort of social world the organisation and its members are working to bring about.” (4) Policy also provides for a democratic vote when time-restraints necessitate. The highest decision-making body is the General Assembly, which convenes once every three years; the International Council has authority in the interim.

The two offices of the Croatian Team of BPT got together for what they called an ”Otvorene Summit” every 2 or 3 months. They met at a third place to evaluate that period of work, update strategy for next period, and assess the personal performance of each team member. They then prepared a report for the Co-ordinating Committee (5). All BPT teams had similar meetings.

Each Christian Peacemaker team has a co-ordinator, a writer, and other specialisations. Teams make decisions together; the team co-ordinator would only make a unilateral decision if the situation demands a quick response without time to process it with the entire team (6). During CPT training, a potential team member is required to take a work style assessment called ”Style Profile for Communication at Work” (7) This instrument is a measurement of ”style” which it defines as ”your characteristic way of perceiving and thinking about yourself, others, and things,”(8) and it offers a descriptive categorisation of how one works under both stress and calm conditions. Gene Stoltzfus, CPT Director, uses this information to create a balanced team with someone on it who can take leadership even in stressful times. We have found it almost essential that at least one person on the team be “Achieving/directing.” (9)

Specialisations often occur within a team based on the unique skills volunteers bring with them rather than a dividing up of responsibility. Austrian Peace Services reports that ability in editing or drama, for example, might be needed and nurtured within the team. (10)

Examples follow of what has not worked: how extreme stress and dysfunctional participants can undermine the consensus process within larger and multi-ethic groups.

Gulf Peace Team camp members successfully used consensus when the group was small. But as numbers grew, fewer people took part, perhaps because some spoke little or no English or because meetings were poorly facilitated (11). The camp of approximately 70 people then formed into affinity groups with a Steering Committee. It was never resolved how to make decisions when this process failed (12).

The affinity groups were not very functional in the Gulf Peace Camp. There was no common language, little experience with affinity groups, some without experience of nonviolent action, no shared cultural identity nor ideological cohesion, and a disproportionate number of people with serious psychological needs (13). In spite of all this Robert Burrowes concludes, ”It is clear from the historical record that the preferred organisational unit for effective nonviolent action is the affinity group.” (14)

The Cyprus Resettlement Project experienced similar problems. The transnational nature of the team made it harder to have consensus over aims, approaches, roles, etc. Team members did not share a common language, and translation did not make up for it (15).

Mir Sada was an event rather than an on-going project, so it never had time to discover better practices of communication and decision-making. The dominant language was Italian, and even with consecutive translation in meetings non-Italians were at a disadvantage. Members were formed into affinity groups, but the speakers’ council, without a mandate, functioned more like a parliament. The structure ceased to be a democracy when subject to the overriding will of the organisers. (16)

Length of stay, overlap, introduction of new member

At the peak of need for accompaniment in Guatemala, PBI experimented with a two-tiered system of long-term team members and short-term escorts. Hundreds of two-week or one-month escorts were recruited and sent into the field to join long-term team members, who maintained the political contacts, analysed the political situation, and determined the team’s work priorities. The long-term team members were responsible for orientation and support of these escort volunteers (17).

Formal orientation manuals were created for the short-term escorts. Regular discussions amongst volunteers analysed political situation and risks. Logs were kept noting threats, surveillance, or suspicious coincidences to maintain continuity and organisational memory amidst rapid volunteer turnover (18). PBI discontinued the use of short-term escorts in 1989 because short-termers weren’t getting deep enough preparation and it was a tremendous burden on the team that stayed in the field. This discontinuation meant the loss of 100 volunteers per year, ”but PBI was more concerned about maintaining trusting relationships in the field, a high-level of discretion and analysis, and a strong sense of team continuity and affinity, all of which were suffering.”(19)

Liam Mahony sees risks for short-term volunteers. Lack of time to relax and learn the ropes makes mistakes more likely, with a potential of being dangerous or costly to the reputation of the organisation; cultural ignorance can result in offensive behaviour and perhaps damage to the relationship of trust with the accompanied groups; and natural inquisitiveness can be intensified by the brevity of the visit and go beyond the bounds of the distancing necessary in the accompaniment role (20). The combinations of short and long-term volunteers ”that work”, Mahony concludes, involve some level of supervision of the short-termers by either staff or longer-term team members who provide continuity of analysis and build long-term relationships with the various groups. This supervision should be combined with explicit behavioural guidelines, clear role definitions, and careful screening of volunteers. ”What doesn’t work at all is for an organisation to simply send short-term volunteers without guidelines or rigorous supervision, or for inexperienced volunteers to come without any organisation at all. Although many of these volunteers do excellent accompaniment, the exceptions wreak havoc, damaging the credibility and effectiveness of all other accompaniment groups working in the conflict. The risk can be reduced through supervision or training but never entirely eliminated.”(21)

Pat Coy’s analysis is that frequent turnover can ”work against and have a largely negative impact on the team’s ability to actualise the consensus principle of full participation. [It] contributes to repetition and inefficiency in discussion and decision making and increases frustration with the consensus process. It also disrupts personal relationships on the teams and changes team power dynamics in ways that frequently–although not always–have deleterious effects on the consensus process.”(22)

SIPAZ team members commit to one year of service; WfP team members to two years; CPT corps members to three years. All three organisations have a high rate of extension beyond this initial commitment: SIPAZ has one volunteer who has been on the team for four years now; WfP Director Steven Bennett says they have to recruit very little now and can be very selective.

Sandra van den Bosse revealed some pitfalls in the arrival of new BPT team members: ”An introduction packet was written but not always followed. Sometimes the departing team member was reluctant to leave, causing troubles; sometimes they were eager to leave and too negative towards the new team member… Sometimes the new team member thought they knew it all already and refused to be introduced.”(23)

With a mix of full-timers and reservists on a CPT team, it is important to stagger arrivals. The full-timers might stay three months and go away for a period and come back for three more months, or they might stay six months or more. Sometimes a team might be made up of two long-term people and two or three reservists (24).

Staggered arrivals at the beginning of a project are not a good thing, however, according to Kate Kemp of the Cyprus Resettlement Project. ”[Other difficulties] could have been overcome had we all arrived at the same time so that initial orientation could have involved discussion of these points…. We could have saved a lot of time (and perhaps confusion) later on in the project.” (25)

Thorough and sensitive orientation can helps a new member acquire skills and information needed to accomplish group goals and tasks; introduce him/her to the neighbourhood, the conflict, and team contacts; ease the disorientation and emotional turmoil of ”culture shock”; and allow her/him to work through the identity transition that is always part of joining a new group (26). But this does not always happen. If a team is over-extended in its work or experiencing conflict within, for example, often less care is given to the orientation of a new member. The result is that it takes the new volunteer far longer to become effective, more team time is taken in answering questions, the new member will lack confidence to become a full participant in the work or in team decision-making, meetings will be inefficient and consensus process compromised (27).

Team compatibility and internal conflict

”Some people have some gifts, skills or capabilities. People who work in teams and who are committed complement and influence each other in a synergetic way. This compatibility is an important criterion when constituting our peace teams.” Katarina Kruhonja (28)

It is clear that team-sending organisations have relied too heavily on the ”gifts” of incoming team members and that specific skills of conflict resolution, team-building, and multi-cultural sensitivity must be taught more extensively during training. Good intentions for being a part of international nonviolence do not necessarily come accompanied with person-to-person skills for problem solving and relationship. Training must take that into account.

John Heid, finding himself on a very unformed Michigan Peace Team, said, ”There were all kinds of people coming in who had gifts that I didn’t have, but they didn’t know how to build community.” (29)

One team member told me that living and working with people you have never met before and people that you would perhaps not usually befriend is too hard to do and only enjoyable ”on those rare occasions that nobody was pissed off at anybody.”(30)

Team members at times experience ”burn-out” on internal team dynamics. During these times, a team might put a great deal of energy into its work in the field, even its clerical work, but do anything to avoid meetings about team dynamics. This will inevitably compromise the orientation of a new member arriving during this time, and if there are actual disputes within the team, the new member may be quickly recruited to take a side (31).

CPT has a written policy to address internal problems, which is included here as a relevant example:

”Procedure for Dealing with Conflicts and Grievances in CPT…

  • Any concern or disagreement should be addressed by either party within a reasonable length of time. As a general guideline, no more than five days should elapse between any of the following procedural steps. When delays are involved, the procedure to be used and the time frame should be outlined and agreed upon in preliminary discussions. These procedures apply to areas of personal relationships and to work/supervisory issues.

  • Step 1: Where there is a concern or disagreement, the two people involved should attempt to come to a satisfactory solution through honest speaking and compassionate listening.

  • Step 2: Where a solution is not found, the two parties together will agree on a third party to be a mediator. CPT encourages use of the next-level supervisor as a mediator.

  • Step 3: Where the first effort with a third party mediator is unsuccessful, one or both of the parties should take the matter to the CPT Executive Director for resolution.

  • Step 4: If steps 1-3 are not successful, any of the parties concerned should submit a written request for help to the chairperson of the Steering Committee…” (32)

Behavioural ethics

Very little about behaviour on a team is found in writing, either as rules or as narrative of what goes on within a team. Some organisations, like SIPAZ, believe that rigorous application screening and training processes will reveal problems that would manifest themselves in inappropriate behaviour in the field (33). The communication of ethics begins in their job announcement: ”As a SIPAZ volunteer you must be willing to live simply, sharing in the lives and work of the Mexicans you will meet, and being respectful of their cultures and beliefs. It may require adjusting to new ideas, cultures, climate, living conditions, etc…” (34) And because peace team organisations train applicants before accepting them onto a team, there is opportunity for assessing a person’s judgement rather than enforcing a set of rules.

For SIPAZ team members, the strict screening is followed by a three month trial period and then an evaluation. Director Poen says there have been times when that initial evaluation revealed that things weren’t working out well. No person has had to be removed from a team; rather there have been a couple of times when the volunteer and evaluator agreed after training that placement wasn’t appropriate.

BPT, however, had a written list of rules, included below (their Conduct Policy is discussed in Chapter 4.5).

BPT Rules and Guidelines (35)

  • 1. Go in pairs

  • 2. One person stays at the home base

  • 3. Tell the others where you are and how long you will be

  • 4. Files and documents should be kept in a safe place

  • 5. Don’t disclose information

  • 6. Use prudence at all times

  • 7. Volunteers are not to work for any other person or organisation during the term of service nor fundraise on behalf of other groups.

  • 8. After service with BPT is over, volunteers cannot work with another organisation in the area for a period of one month

  • 9. Take 1 day off per week and 2 more days a month

  • 10. We are not here to solve the problems, but to enable local people to solve their problems themselves

  • 11. Be aware that it is not our business as foreigners to tell people what they have to do, and be cautious against the Western tendency ‘to do something.’

  • 12. Each action should be assessed as to what risk the action entails for the volunteer, what risk it entails for the BPT getting evicted from the country, what it means for the people you are working with, what the long term effects of it probably are.

  • 13. Never give in to the pressure that ‘you have to do something’ or act against the will of the people concerned

  • 14. Do not promise anything you are unsure of being able to fulfil

  • 15. Respect the rules of non-partisanship. BPT organisers have defined impartiality as not working for any organisation/group as volunteers by: a) counselling them; b) hanging around in their offices too much; c) translating letters, making telephone calls, etc for them; d) have their office in an independent building; e) present themselves as members of the team; f) avoid political statements; g)maintain contacts with many different groups and organisations; h) stress their independence as foreigners; i) listen to people, without offering agreement or support; and j) avoid close personal friendships.

BPT policy discouraged team members from favours for locals outside the activities of the project, nonetheless translations were sometimes made and cars loaned. ”Sexual relationships were discouraged but nevertheless happened, and three volunteers ended up getting married to locals… Social relationships with ordinary locals were encouraged, however, to get a better understanding and find friends outside of the team and activist populations.” (36)

Steven Bennett acknowledges that there have been plenty of personal crises on WfP teams. The organisation has rules for the conduct of a team member officially representing WfP in the field, but not for personal relationships. ”It would not be right for us to make policy about relationships between team members,” and there is no proscription on relations with locals. Bennett says there have been many marriages both on the team and with locals (37).

”Romantic pairings among team members are common and impact on the consensus process and team relations in a variety of ways. Most team members appear to go along with these relations, are willing to make the switches in bedroom assignments that are usually necessary to accommodate them, and accept the extra demands they made on consensus and team relations… Yet they are not always welcomed by the entire team. While no doubt an extreme example, one Japanese volunteer was distressed in late 1993 when the other six members of the Sri Lanka team all paired off romantically.” The result for that man was loneliness, a complication of team relations, a feeling that others were less committed to the work and the team, and a moral issue based in cultural difference (38).

A member of the Guatemalan Accompaniment Project spoke of sexual relations between volunteer men and Mayan women. ”There’s so much of it. And when it happens, that young woman becomes a social outcast in a way. She will most likely never be able to marry.” (39)

Problems with behavioural ethics are much more likely to occur within large groups that have been hastily recruited or not unified by one organisation’s standards and style. An example would be the mass accompaniment of returning Guatemalan refugees in 1993. Hundreds of unscreened volunteers came from all over the world to respond to the need - many with no organisational affiliation, training or preparation.

”The accompaniment did not always put its best foot forward: the volunteers couldn’t stop bickering among themselves. Cultural, ideological and strategic differences among the volunteers were difficult to overcome in such a short, intense period. The Guatemalan government refugee commissioner even accused the accompaniment of using illicit drugs and stealing food and blankets, and some volunteers admit that this may have occurred.” (40) A UNHCR official denigrated the situation and volunteers thus: ”These people get into buses that we paid for. They sleep on mattresses that had been given to refugees. They are eating [the refugees’] food. They are really tourists or hippies, joining the movement. I don’t think they really represent a real protection, because you don’t know who they represent, seriously, coming on their own like that.” (41)

Choices that seem minor can undermine the respectability of an entire group. The leader of WfP delegations to Central America required women to wear bras and forego short shorts to respect the local standards of modesty. One woman went running in jogging in shorts anyway. Another time, a Wicken group that was part of a WfP delegation celebrated winter solstice with a dance on beach. ”Wherever you are working, there needs to be exquisite sensitivity to history and culture!” says Phyllis Taylor (42)

The European Network for Civil Peace Services has started to discuss « Guiding Principles for Civil Peace Services”. A first draft of a paper that might become something like a Code of Conduct, and that was heavily influenced by the Code of Conduct developed by International Alert, was presented in 1991.

Stressors and other problems

Stress is created for the team in the field by:

  • Living closely together

  • Danger

  • Lack of clarity about what to do and how to do it

  • Fear of being ineffective

  • Disillusionment

  • Cultural discomfort

  • Boredom

  • Dealing with people who are traumatised, grieving, fleeing, hungry

  • Viewing death and destruction

  • Overwork without sufficient time for relaxation

  • Insecure funding

  • Psychological or physical health concerns

One of the frequent stressors mentioned and experienced by teams is that of living and working together in limited space. SIPAZ volunteers rent an office/house in Chiapas. International Coordinator Poen says “If it’s a positive experience, you become very close… But it’s an extremely difficult thing to succeed at.” (43) BPT team members found it difficult. They lived in a small house, using the living room as office space.

Ambiguity about the team’s role or about the effectiveness or appropriateness of that role undermines confidence. John Heid of the Michigan Peace Team gives this a creative spin: ”Being there is like being in a petri dish; you’re introduced into the culture and it isn’t clear yet what you’ll be. We’re acting on faith; this isn’t rocket science.” (44)

Inadequate or insecure funding forces teams to work harder, scrambling to keep equipment running and trim costs. ”BPT funding was very insecure most of the time, which led to a lot of completely stressed meetings and very demotivated volunteers,” says van den Bosse.

Debilitating stress was created in the Gulf Peace Camp by an inordinate number of people with special psychological needs, whose activities regularly disrupted camp routine (45) and all teams need to be aware of and deal with psychological needs. A CPT team in Hebron was really struggling and describing what they were experiencing as burn-out. However, with counsel from the home office they realised it was really one person on the team who was not functioning well and affecting them all adversely. Subsequently they were coached to be aware of the signals early on (46).

Teams and their sending organisations need to be proactive in elimination of unnecessary stress, in development of coping tools, and in support for healing and growth. It often takes difficulties to bring about the awareness of what is needed. After an intense experience for the Guatemalan PBI team, ”they worked more deliberately on team support and mental health, conscious that its own teams were as vulnerable to the debilitating psychological effects of state error and political threats as the Guatemalans they hoped to serve.” (47)

To some extent, the stresses of team work can be mitigated by eliminating as many of the surprises as possible. PBI team members composed a letter to accompany the recruitment of potential short-term volunteers, to prepare them:

…We have seen many people suffer a lot of emotional turmoil because they were not adequately prepared for the difficult situation…We cannot guarantee our presence will prevent acts of violence, rather we hope it will lower the probability of such acts. The possibility of violence against the people we are with and against ourselves remains very real and we need to be able to accept that. Do not think, as many do, that you are safe… Your ability to respond to a violent or tense situation could well depend on how honestly you have accepted the danger and prepared yourself.

… The very protection you offer as an international observer is in itself a constant reminder of the danger they face and the oppression that makes you safer than they. The response to this contradiction varies, but it can express itself in outright anger and mistreatment. Dealing with this requires patience and tolerance, and a belief that people who fight for human rights have a right to live, and an accompaniment service cannot be contingent on their personality or their emotional response to an intensely stressful situation. We must all keep in mind that it is not their responsibility to please us, to meet our needs, or even to pay attention to us. We are there to serve.

The idea of accompaniment may sound glamorous or romantic from a distance, but in fact it is hard work, and very demanding. ..One of the most difficult problems volunteers face is boredom. The work is not for everyone, and we’d like you to think seriously in advance about whether it is the right work for you (48).


  • (1) : Coy 1997: 191

  • (2) : Poen interview with author

  • (3) : Taylor interview with author

  • (4) : Coy 1997: 194

  • (5) : Bekkering in Moser-Puangsuwan/Weber, 2000: 204

  • (6) : Evans - interview with author

  • (7) : Gilmore/Fraleigh 1992

  • (8) : Gilmore/Fraleigh 1992: 7

  • (9) : Evans - interview with author

  • (10) : “Report Austrian Peace Services (ÖFD)", December 2000

  • (11) : Burrowes in Moser-Puangsuwan/Weber, 2000: 308

  • (12) : Ibid: 308

  • (13) : Ibid: 315

  • (14) : Ibid: 314

  • (15) : Kemp in Moser-Puangsuwan/Weber 2000: 125

  • (16) : Schweitzer in Moser-Puangsuwan/Weber 2000: 274

  • (17) : Mahony/Eguren 1997: 50

  • (18) : Mahony in Moser-Puangsuwan/Weber 2000:140

  • (19) : Ibid: 144

  • (20) : Mahony/Eguren 1997: 242

  • (21) : Mahony/Eguren 1997: 243

  • (22) : Coy 1997: 229

  • (23) : van den Bosse - interview with author

  • (24) : Evans - interview with author

  • (25) : Kemp in Moser-Puangsuwan/Weber: 2000: 125

  • (26) : Coy 1997: 201

  • (27) : Coy 1997: 202

  • (28) : Culture of Peace. Centre for Peace, Non-violence and Human Rights Osijek’s Publication. Osijek, 1/2001

  • (29) : Heid, John - 4/01 interview with author

  • (30) : Source confidential

  • (31) : Coy 1997: 202

  • (32) : CPT Mission Statement, Policies, Guidelines 3/24/95

  • (33) : Poen - interview with author

  • (34) : SIPAZ volunteer job announcement - 1/00

  • (35) : Declaration of goals and principles of BPT, 1994, cited in Schirch 1995: 87,88

  • (36) : van den Bosse - interview with author

  • (37) : Bennett - interview with author

  • (38) : Coy 1997: 203, 204

  • (39) : Source confidential

  • (40) : Mahony/Eguren 1997: 135

  • (41) : Ibid

  • (42) : Taylor - interview with author

  • (43) : Poen - interview with author

  • (44) : Heid - interview with author

  • (45) : Ibid

  • (46) : Evans - interview with author

  • (47) : Mahony/Eguren 1997

  • (48) : Mahony/Eguren 1997: 53