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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: Relationship with the sending organisation

  • Where does the “expertise” lie for different types of decisions about work in the field?

  • How will these decisions be made quickly enough and with the input of people with maximum information and vested interest?

The team itself has first hand information of risk and the political situation; outside committees are removed from it. Short-term team members may not understand the history of the organisation and may not have as much nonviolent experience of the activists on the project steering committee or international directorate. Only the head office struggles to match the activities with requirements of donors and public relations issues. The result of this can be constant tension within the organisation.

PBI has struggled since its beginning to become an efficient bureaucracy that can make and implement effective and informed decisions about complex conflict situations. The International directorate delegates most of the project-related decisions to semi-autonomous project steering committees. These hold intense week-long meetings with the team in the field several times a year to hash out policy and program strategies. Meetings “sufficiently thorough to enable the project committees to absorb as much as possible of the current field reality from the team, and for team members in turn to clearly understand the long-term concerns of the more experienced project committee members.” These meetings take considerable time because of PBI’s commitment to consensus but lay the groundwork for later decisions that will have to be made quickly by the team in an emergency (1).

Often there may be a general feeling on the part of the people in the field that those back home do not understand what is going on, are too slow in decision-making, or do not take input from the field seriously enough. A bewildered e-mail sent back to the Michigan Peace Team reflects the same doubt, laced with anxiety: “I am not sure if the gravity of the situation here is familiar enough to all parties in the office, and the trust I had put in the office to offer enough team support on the ground was why I ended up here.” (2)

John Heid described his Michigan Peace Team as hampered by poor communication with the home base. In that case, the team felt their ability to determine a safe course for themselves was undermined by the fact that the home base was communicating with villages in the field and making commitments about when the team would arrive, without allowing the team to make that determination based on its actual situation (3).

A person on a team or delegation has the right to assume that the sending organisation has put together a team that can be trusted, with communication that can be counted on and a plan that is in keeping with the overall philosophy of the organisation. CPT once erred by trying too quickly to put together an emergency delegation to Vieques, recruiting people they didn’t know well, five of whom hardly knew anything about CPT. The opportunity for civil disobedience came 24 hours after the delegation’s arrival in Vieques, and the team leader and co-leader were both arrested, leaving the others to figure out what to do next (4).

Difficulties in the relationships between Balkan Peace Team Coordinating Committee, the teams, and the sending organisation eventually became so insurmountable in the team’s eyes that they resigned. The office memo began: “On January 11, the BPT Coordinating Committee received an email letter from the five volunteers on the Kosovo/a team, stating that they had all decided to end their work with BPT. They explained in their letter that they felt, after a number of situations, that Balkan Peace Team was unable, as an organisation, to fulfil its responsibilities to them as volunteers nor to the team’s projects.” (5)

Among the structural shortcomings listed in an internal paper written by Christine Schweitzer about the collapse of BPT (6), the following points speak of the relationship between teams and their sending organisations.

  • for many areas no clear responsibility was assigned within the Coordinating Committee, which meant that often nobody in the CC had the ‘last word’, which meant that decisions not only took a long time, but sometimes simply were not made in time.

  • information transfer between field and International Office, field and CC

  • no sufficient guidance and efficiency in dealing with emergencies in the field

In her summary evaluation of the Mir Sada attempt, Schweitzer illuminates a problem that may be inherent in all working relations between teams and their sending organisations. “A big problem for the organisers probably was that of the responsibility they bore. Since they initiated the project they felt more responsible than those who came following their appeal. And of course it would have been them who were blamed by others… if something had happened to participants of the action. When it became obvious that travelling on after Prozor bore a high risk, they did not feel capable of taking the responsibility for it. I think that this was also the result of an organisational structure which does not guarantee real equality between all participants." (7) This last sentence speaks precisely to the issue. Those in the field and those at home base all need timely information and parity in decision-making in order to share the burdens of responsibility.


  • (1) : Mahony in Moser-Puangsuwan / Weber 158, 159

  • (2) : Source confidential

  • (3) : Heid - interview with author

  • (4) : Evans interview with author

  • (5) : Wilsnack, Dorie/ Bachman, Eric, 1/22/01 e-mail message to BPT-Internal

  • (6) : Schweitzer 2001

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