Rethinking the peacebuilding agenda

In the concluding fishbowl discussion the main elements from the preceding plenary debates and parallel sessions were taken up again. Starting with a reference to the complexity session the relevance of better listening to the systems we work with and work in was specifically underlined.

How relevant can standard tools and approaches remain in light of complexity?

Put into the context of donor-recipient relationships and the efforts to refine the instruments from the development cooperation toolbox the question was raised, whether complexity theory would call for a complete renunciation ofcurrently prevalent approaches. Does it imply that due to the complexities and specificities of different conflict contexts using certain predefined instruments would by their very nature be inappropriate? Or would complexity theory rather just help to refine these tools and approaches? One suggestion that would fit in with the latter assumption was to work harder on identifying relevant empirical types of peacebuilding contexts that help us define what to do.

One implication of complexity theory, namely to think in systems, stimulated further questions: What is the system we refer to? Which extent does the system of concern have and how can we conceptualize our systems in relation to other systems (donor, implementing organization, local partner). It was conceded that in reality instead we often still work according to some sort of donor mindset, assuming that if we just understand the problem we can fix it – an approach that could not be any further from the system-oriented perspective of complexity theory. Whether such a mindset could realistically help dealing with challenges like a weak or problematic social contract was put into question. Yet, overall it was stressed that the relationship between donor and recipient countries already changed a lot and that the New Deal might be catalytic for further change.

New partnerships between CSOs from the North and South needed

With regard to Civil Society it was called for a new partnership between NGOs from the North and South. Where relevant decisions for fragile and conflict affected states are being taken in the capitals of the North, NGOs from the South seldom have a seat at the table. NGOs from the North instead quite often have a seat at the table or a voice in the process. This calls for better networking and partnerships based on solidarity between the different civil society actors. However, national sensitivities still remain a challenge and there is not enough room for a strategic reflection among civil society actors from North and South about the changing dynamics in the field and the room and need for better cooperation by means of networks and platforms.

Practical Questions: Which local ownership? How to adapt funding? How to overcome silos?

On a more practical level, it was pointed to remaining difficulties. While probably everyone would nowadays agree that the liberal peacebuilding paradigm is no longer dominant and local ownership has become an undisputed necessity, this raises important questions:

  • Which of the local actors should be approached to define priorities, where conflict is not completely over yet?
  • How can we adapt the bureaucratic framework in donor countries from a system in which donors decide “when to spend what” to a system that starts with the actual needs of societies emerging from conflict?
  • How can we overcome the persisting trend to work in more or less isolated silos and come to a more comprehensive approach?

Especially with regard to the last aspect, there was a strong call that the different actors should not onlywork together but indeed should already “think together” before starting to work together in the field. At the same time it was also reminded, that while these calls for a more comprehensive approach beyond separate silos are more or less common sense, it is far from clear how this fundamental change can be achieved in spite of the continuing lack of trust between the various actors combined with strong diverging, interests.

Peacebuilding: Multisectoral approach, Mainstreming or just another Separate Community?

One crucial point of the discussion was directly linked to the notion of a more comprehensive approach: the question of whether what is needed is a multisectoral approach to peacebuilding or whether it is instead rather necessary to focus on mainstreaming peacebuilding considerations in the different sectors of development cooperation. While there was no direct or unequivocal answer to this question, one interesting notion was to see peacebuilding as a separate community that could build a bridge between the development and the security community.

Marius Müller-Hennig
FriEnt-Team, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung

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