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Centre on Conflict, Development & Peacebuilding

Action Learning for Conflict Analysis (ALCA): The Micro-Dynamics of Humanitarian Knowledge Production in Protracted Crises

Project overview

Conflict analysis is a staple of practitioner communities – local and international, public and private – working in ‘fragile’ settings. Humanitarians, in particular, are increasingly discussing their roles in ‘protracted’ crises that defy the traditional logic of swiftly responding to an acute emergency. 

Standard tools such as post-conflict and post-disaster needs assessments continue to be pursued, but with growing recognition of the limited applicability and pertinence of such (laborious) undertakings for making sense of rapidly evolving field dynamics. Overall, the linkages and institutional overlaps between humanitarian, development and peacebuilding practitioners operating in such environments remain poorly captured, as are organisational understandings of what conflict-sensitive programming entails.

Building on on-going collaboration between the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Graduate Institute’s Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding (CCDP), this project seeks to develop a dynamic approach for the sustained generation and dissemination of robust yet flexible conflict-analysis techniques on the interface of humanitarian and peacebuilding concerns.

OCHA’s pilot ‘action learning initiative’ hosted by the CCDP in 2016 highlighted the inadequacies of standard conflict analyses (including context and stakeholder mappings) for effectively informing operational procedures, decision-making processes, and day-to-day interactions with affected populations and local communities, as well as with staff members, government representatives and partner organisations.

To fill this gap, the present project seeks to go beyond standard ‘solutions’ to pre-conceived ‘problems’, instead offering checklists of guiding questions and back-of-the-envelope analytical tools for field staff. These materials, based on the pedagogical study of how practitioners engage in ‘problem-solving’, will ultimately seek to provide a dynamic and variable set of tools in which multiple solutions can be derived to any particular problem that is encountered.

The overarching goals of the project are to develop succinct course materials for training modules of the type envisaged by OCHA. These materials will go beyond enumerating ‘solutions’ to pre-conceived ‘problems’ by instead offering checklists of guiding questions and back-of-the-envelope analytical tools that field practitioners can employ. These materials will be based on the pedagogical study of how practitioners engage in ‘problem-solving’ on the country, regional and headquarters level to provide a dynamic set of tools in which multiple solutions can be derived to problems encountered.

A 6-months pilot phase in the framework of the project is currently underway. In late 2017, field work was conducted at OCHA’s Colombia head office in Bogotá. The mission entailed an extensive document review of existing tools and practices, as well as a series of interviews and group discussions with partner organisations across the humanitarian, development and peacebuilding sectors.

These findings will feed into a larger project that envisions additional field sites in protracted crisis with OCHA presence at the interface between peacebuilding and humanitarian action. The preliminary findings were presented at the 2018 Humanitarian Networks and Partnerships Week in Geneva.


Project Partners