Do No Harm / Local Capacities for Peace

Primary purpose

Micro-level conflict analysis, project planning and programme quality, and impact assessment of programme on conflict.

Intended users

Field staff of international or local NGOs, also widespread among donor agencies (headquarters and field offices). It is primarily targeted at humanitarian organisations, but is also applicable to development cooperation and peacebuilding.

Levels of application

Project level

Conceptual assumptions

Aid is not neutral in the midst of conflict. Aid and how it is administered can cause harm or can strengthen peace capacities in the midst of conflicted communities. All aid programmes involve the transfer of resources (food, shelter, water, health care, training, etc.) into a resource-scarce environment. Where people are in conflict, these resources represent power and wealth and they become an element of the conflict. Some people attempt to control and use aid resources to support their side of the conflict and to weaken the other side. If they are successful or if aid staff fail to recognise the impact of their programming decisions, aid can cause harm. However, the transfer of resources and the manner in which staff conduct the programmes can strengthen local capacities for peace, build on connectors that bring communities together, and reduce the divisions and sources of tensions that can lead to destructive conflict.

To do no harm and to support local capacities for peace requires:

  • Careful analysis of the context of conflict and the aid programme, examining how aid interacts with the conflict, and a willingness to create options and redesign programmes to improve its quality
  • Careful reflection on staff conduct and organisational policies so that the “implicit ethical messages” that are sent communicate congruent messages that strengthen local capacities for peace.

Main steps and suggested process

  • Analyse dividers and sources of tensions between groups: Systems & Institutions; Attitudes & Actions; [Different] Values & Interests; [Different] Experiences; Symbols & Occasions
  • Analyse connectors across subgroups and Local Capacities for Peace: Systems & Institutions; Attitudes & Actions; [Shared] Values & Interests; [Shared] Experiences; Symbols & Occasions
  • Analyse the aid programme: mission, mandate, headquarters; describe the local programme in terms of why; where; what; when; with whom; by whom and how
  • Analyse the aid programme’s impact on dividers/tensions and connectors / local capacities for peace: is the programme design, its activities, or its personnel increasing or decreasing dividers / tensions? Is it supporting or undercutting connectors / local capacities for peace?
  • Consider options for programming redesign and re-check the impact on dividers / tensions and connectors / local capacities for peace: how can the programme details be redesigned so it will “Do No Harm” and strengthen local capacities for peace? Ensure the redesign options avoid negative impacts on the dividers or connectors.

The Do No Harm framework is generally used by a group of practitioners familiar with the context and project. In this sense, most data is drawn from the participants. However, there are times when information gaps are identified and data is collected from other sources to improve the quality of the analysis.

It does not include explicit conflict and peace indicators. However, there are many implicit indicators that can be made explicit, through a community-based process of indicator development. Such indicators could include a just distribution of resources, creating or strengthening networks of relationships across divisions, strengthening good governance, the use of participatory processes for decision making, supporting traditional or indigenous mechanisms for conflict resolution and reconciliation, inclusion of diversity of ethnic or religious groups, gender, or youth in programme activities and leadership structures.

Required resources

Limited, if conducted in workshop format


The Do No Harm methodology is widely used among international and increasingly local humanitarian and development organisations. In Germany, for example, a large group of NGOs has committed themselves to mainstreaming Do No Harm within their operations. While engaged in the early development of the tool in collaboration with CDA, World Vision has also moved toward a process of mainstreaming the use of the Do No Harm framework since 2001. To this end, workshops, training of trainers, programme assessments and case studies of the use of the above framework have been undertaken worldwide.

Lessons learnt

  • The Do No Harm framework is an approach that is highly compatible with community-based participatory processes and may in fact help strengthen local capacities for peace, in the process of using it.
  • The underlying concepts of the Do No Harm framework are relatively easy to grasp (this can be done in a one- to two-day workshop). It is nonetheless a longer process to integrate it into staff perspective in such a way that it becomes a conflict analysis lens for better assessing humanitarian and development work.
  • It is descriptive in nature and therefore challenges the users to do their own analysis and apply problem-solving skills to the situation. When used well, it can improve the quality of programming, lowers the risks to staff and community, and lays a solid foundation on which peacebuilding can take place.
  • After extensive application of the Do No Harm approach in a variety of contexts, a number of international NGOs, including World Vision, have found that it is very useful in both emergency and development settings.

1. It is primarily focused on the micro situation, so that, if used without consideration of the macro context, it may create a false sense of security for staff.

2. It is less suitable for an in-depth analysis of macro-level conflict. Some organisations, such as World Vision, have thus tried to address the above, by combining Do No Harm with other macro conflict analysis tools.

Commentary on the tool

  • The Do No Harm framework has proved a very valuable tool for micro conflict analysis, in both relief and development contexts.
  • It is also regarded as a flexible tool that can be further adapted to the various needs of the organisations applying the Do No Harm framework. For instance, World Vision found that the use of case study writing and the use of case studies in training help complement the LCPP framework.

Available reports

More information on the Do No Harm approach can be found on CDAs website: Do No Harm Framework. Training materials are available in English, French and Spanish.