Early Warning and Preventive Measures

United Nations System Staff College

Primary purpose

Conflict analysis, early warning and response design

Intended users

It is primarily targeted at United Nations staff (at both HQ and field level), to identify elements for potential preventive action strategies in their respective countries of assignment. It may also be used by national actors and other institutions (donors, civil society, etc.) who can adopt the methodology, in order to design and develop national preventive action strategies to address home-grown issues with local solutions.

Levels of application

Country level

Conceptual assumptions

Human security and human rights provide the conceptual framework for the UN conflict analysis methodology. In particular, human security refers to the safety for individuals and groups from both:

  • Violent threats, e.g. violent crime, gross violations of human rights, terrorism, etc.
  • Non-violent threats, e.g. environmental degradation, illicit drugs, economic crises, infectious diseases, natural disasters

Main steps and suggested process

1. Situation profile

Establish a shared understanding and broad picture of the country / region under consideration, including geography, history, current events, economy, political system, social structure, external issues, etc.

2. Actors analysis matrix

Identify and assess key actors who can facilitate or undermine peace and stability in a society, in particular from the perspective of:

  • Their main characteristics
  • Their interests and underlying needs
  • The resources that they currently have and those that they still need or hope to obtain

3. Survey of conflict causes

Identify possible causes of violent conflict, following two main dimensions:

  • Categorise possible causes of violent conflict, in terms of their potential threat to various aspects of human security. These include: governance and political stability, social and communal stability, economic and resource stability, personal security, military mobilisation and arms supply, external factors
  • Further distinguish between proximate and structural causes within each human security category
  • Consider human rights as a cross-cutting issue and ensure that it is mainstreamed in all human security categories

4. Composite analysis

Explore the interaction between the structural causes of conflict in order to assess the resulting conflict dynamics and to identify the core issues which preventive action will need to address.

5. Preventive measures matrix

Identify elements of a preventive action strategy in order to address the core issues highlighted through the conflict analysis. This will be based on the formulation of objectives, the generation of options for preventive action and the identification of recommended measures, through a triage process.

6. Scenario building

Build a two-track scenario reflecting likely developments resulting from the implementation “or lack thereof” of the recommended preventive measures, in order to develop a convincing argument on the need to take preventive action.

The above steps are usually introduced through a five-day training workshop that combines plenary and country working groups.

Guiding questions / indicators

Context specific indicators are developed to measure the impact of the potential preventive action, using the SMART principle (i.e. Specific; Measurable; Achievable; Relevant; Time-bound). No specific list of available indicators is used.

Required resources

  • Training materials (card and chart technique)
  • Human resources to facilitate the process (e.g. facilitators)
  • Limited financial resources unless external facilitation is required

Lessons learnt

On the basis of the external evaluation conducted in 2002/2003, key findings and recommendations can be summed up as follows:

  • Overall, the Early Warning and Preventive Measures (EWPM) project has achieved a great deal in less than five years. The evaluators found a heightened awareness concerning areas of early warning and conflict prevention and a determination to make early warning a cross-cutting issue throughout the UN.
  • The course content needs to be continuously reviewed, in order to ensure it is in line with new developments emerging in the conflict prevention field.
  • The pool of trainers that the United Nations System Staff College currently uses needs to be further expanded.
  • Human rights issues need to be integrated better.
  • Increased advocacy is needed to reach a larger audience beyond the UN system.

Commentary on the tool

  • The EWPM methodology remains time consuming, if all steps are followed in an in-depth fashion.
  • It does not require extensive financial resources, as long as no external facilitator is needed.
  • It is a flexible methodology that can be adapted to a large variety of audiences beyond the UN system (e.g. civil society; donor agencies).

Available reports are available on the UN System Staff College website http://www.unssc.org/.