Conflict Assessment Framework

Primary purpose

To integrate conflict sensitivity into the Mission strategy. It is mainly development focused.

Intended users

USAID desk officers, implementing partners, mission staff, US embassy staff and other US government participants

Levels of application

Country / national, regional and sectoral levels (e.g. democracy and governance, health, natural resource management)

Conceptual assumptions

The framework aims to pull together the best research available on the causes of conflict and focuses on the way that the different variables interact. It does not aim to make predictions. It also does not explicitly weight variables, although it identifies a few categories of key causes of conflict, namely:

  • Ethnic and religious divisions
  • Economic causes of conflict
  • Environment and conflict
  • Population, migration and urbanisation
  • Institutional causes of conflict

Main steps and suggested process

  • Desk study on the country context and the main causes of conflict.
  • Discussions with other US agencies (e.g. State Department, Department of Justice, etc.) on the planned engagement for that country and the planned conflict assessment.
  • Assessment team goes to the country for a three to four week visit. This visit generally includes a workshop with the mission staff and partner organisations (i.e. partner organisations working on conflict, as well as from different sectors). The country visit leads to a conflict mapping, which is being compared to existing programmes to assess whether they addressing the conflict causes.
  • The outcome of the assessment is a report with recommendations on how to address the conflict causes through development programmes. The recommendations focus specifically on examining the in-country organisational capacity to address the causes of conflict that have been identified.
  • The mission then takes forward the recommendations (with support from the original assessment team) within their programming strategy.

After the desk study has been conducted, specific sectoral themes generally emerge as key conflict causes (e.g. competition for access to natural resources) and a multi-sectoral team will be pulled together accordingly. The team will normally consist of no more than five people, including sectoral specialists, who can be either from the head office or in-country consultants (the number of people from head office is usually restricted to one or two people). The team spends about three to four weeks in-country, working with the mission staff.

Guiding questions / indicators

The methodology suggests some broad guiding questions, in order to stimulate thinking on the interaction of different issues and tensions. They centre on the need to first establish the variety of causes that interact and overlap, and then to move into the more detailed analysis of what these causes are and the dynamics between them. This analysis focuses on four categories of the causes of internal conflict and specifies a number of key issues under each category:

1. root causes (greed and grievance): including ethnic and religious divisions; economic causes of conflict; environment and conflict; population, migration and urbanisation; and the interaction between different root causes and conflict

2. causes that facilitate the mobilisation and expansion of violence (access to conflict resources): organisations and collective action; financial and human resources; conflict resources and widespread violence

3. causes at the level of institutional capacity and response: democracy and autocracy; political transitions and partial democracies; weak states, shadow states and state failure; state capacity, political leadership and conflict

4. regional and international causes/forces: globalisation, war economies and transnational networks; bad neighbourhoods.

In addition to the categories and principles outlined above, the idea of ‘windows of vulnerability’ is also introduced, which indicates the moments when particular events (e.g. elections, riots, assassinations, etc.) can trigger the outbreak of full-scale violence.

Required resources

The resources required relate to the time spent on the desk study before the in-country visit, the in-country visit itself, and the follow-up support after the visit. In total, the entire process takes around two months.

Lessons learnt

  • Workshops were found to be a useful format for the in-country assessment work.
  • Using local consultants has been very valuable, but one needs to carefully select them, bearing in mind their own political opinions and affiliations. In some cases, it has been impossible to use local consultants due to such sensitivities or the fact that they may be put at risk through their involvement in the assessment.
  • The importance of having a team composed of specialists from different sectors has been proven, so as to broaden it beyond people usually working only on conflict.
  • Similarly, integrated, multi-sectoral programming is important in order to effectively address the confluence of the different conflict causes and dynamics.
  • The ultimate objective of the assessment is to enable the mission to adjust their programming in order to make a difference to the conflict dynamics in-country. The close involvement and buy-in from the mission staff is therefore critical to ensure that implementation takes place.
  • In-country, good co-operation with the US Embassies has proven very useful.
  • After producing the assessment report with its recommendations, it is crucial to follow up and ensure that the findings are incorporated into the programme strategies in country.
  • It has proved fairly easy to convince mission staff of the link between conflict and their programming, but the challenge has been how to then design and implement more conflict-sensitive programmes. With this in mind, USAID has started developing a menu of options / examples for different types of programmes on different sectors, such as for instance how to design a programme for conflict-sensitive water management or youth engagement.

Commentary on the tool

This methodology has been very successful at establishing the analysis of what conflict causes are and how they link to sector programming. The challenge is now to ensure that this realisation is implemented through appropriate programme design and implementation.

Available reports

Please contact the Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation, USAID / Website: