Strategic Conflict Assessment

Primary purpose
Conflict analysis and planning tool (mainly to prepare country/regional strategies, also applicable to individual projects and programmes).

Suggested purposes are to assess:

  • Risks of negative effects of conflict on programmes
  • Risks of programmes or policies exacerbating conflict
  • Opportunities to improve the effectiveness of development interventions in contributing to conflict prevention and reduction.
  • Intended users
  • Principally aimed at staff at DFID and partner bilateral and multilateral agencies. The methodology can be used as the basis for regional, national and local level analysis in order to map responses and the agencies’ impacts to date, and to develop strategies and options for more conflict sensitive policies and programmes.

Levels of application
Regional / country level and local level.

Conceptual assumptions
The Strategic Conflict Assessment (SCA) methodology is intended as a flexible framework that can be adapted as needed, rather than a standardised approach. The conceptual basis for the SCA is the combined use of the following analytical “lenses”:

  • The “political economy” approach that focuses on the political and social interests of those engaged in conflict, drawing attention to those who may benefit from the continuation of the conflict
  • Analysis of the causes of conflict in terms of “greed” (opportunities for accumulation or benefit from conflict) and “grievance” (negative reactions of those who are disadvantaged)
  • Combined analysis of structures and actors and how they interact with one another
  • Identification of the different layers/dimensions of the conflict (international, regional, national and local)
  • Recognition of the dynamic character of conflicts, which may mean that root causes of violent conflict change and are reshaped in protracted conflicts.

The methodology is based on the following three analytical steps:

Within each step, the following areas are investigated:

A. Conflict analysis

1. Structures – Analysis of long-term factors underlying conflict: security, political, economic, social

2. Actors – Analysis of conflict actors: interests, relations, capacities, peace agendas, incentives

3. Dynamics – Analysis of long-term trends of conflict, triggers for increased violence, capacities (institutions, processes) for managing conflict, likely future conflict scenarios

B. Analysis of international responses

1. International actors

  • Map interests and policies of international actors: military and security, diplomatic, trade, immigration, development
  • Assess level of coherence
  • Analyse impacts on conflict dynamics.

2. Development actors

  • Map magnitude and focus of development policy/programmes
  • Analyse development actors’ approaches to conflict: in, on or around?
  • Assess capacities to work effectively “in” and “on” conflict
  • Assess potential to influence conflict and peace dynamics.

3. Interactions between development interventions and conflict

  • Assess impact of conflict on development policy and programmes
  • Assess impact of development interventions on dynamics of conflict and peace.

C. Developing strategies and options
Identify possible strategies in terms of:

  • Developing common donor approaches to better respond to conflict
  • Developing conflict sensitive individual donor approaches
  • Adjusting current activities working “in”or “on” conflict, developing new initiatives.

The following process (for a donor country assessment) is suggested:

  • Desk study
  • Review of relevant documents from a variety of sources
  • Interviews with key stakeholders in the donor country
  • Field work
  • Internal consultation with donor staff (development agency, embassy)
  • Stakeholder consultation (possibly series of workshops with range of stakeholders within and outside the capital)
  • Debriefing workshop with donor staff and small expert group to feed back and discuss results
  • Drafting conflict assessment document
  • Guiding questions / indicators
  • The tool provides useful examples of sources of conflict and tension, conflict actors, conflict triggers, conflict scenarios, donor policy instruments and possible conflict prevention strategies.

Suggested resources
Suggested composition of a country-level conflict assessment team:

  • Team leader (18 working days)
  • International consultant (25 working days, includes preparation of final report)
  • Two in-country project consultants (10 working days each)
  • Conflict adviser (10 working days)
  • Social development adviser (10 working days)

However, this will depend on the context in which the conflict assessment framework will be applied, the end users of the analysis, and their objectives.

Current applications
DFID has applied the conflict assessment methodology to a range of country studies, including Nepal, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Sri Lanka and states in the Caucasus. There has also been a multi-donor assessment in Nigeria, which included DFID, on the basis of the SCA framework.

Lessons learnt
The following methodological and practical lessons have been learned from applying the Strategic Conflict Assessments (SCAs):

  • SCAs have improved the quality of analysis across UK government departments and encouraged a more joined-up approach.
  • They have provided a framework within which to assess new proposals and have been useful in designing coherent, strategic interventions.
  • There is a need to determine the SCAs’ target audiences and purpose in the design phase. A limited audience enables a more critical analysis, whereas a wider audience necessitates more sensitivity and potential watering down. If other relevant ministries are involved and have a serious stake in the outcome of the process, a strongly worded analysis could limit efforts to engage in subtle diplomatic pressure.
  • There is a need to be clear about why and when to conduct SCAs; in particular, they should be timed to coincide with a natural pause or turning point in the programme cycle, or before launching a new programme.
    composition of the team is a crucial element in its success; it is important to encompass expertise from a number of different areas in order to widen and deepen the quality of the analysis. It is also good to have a combination of external and local consultants.
  • There is a need to achieve the right balance between contextual analysis and programme design. In this sense, it is important to have as wide an analysis as possible so that the complexity of the conflict could be properly understood before converting it into programme ideas.
  • Precise recommendations on what action to take next bring added value to SCAs. They also help overcome the feeling that the process could be an extra burden, e.g. describing exactly what response needs to be taken, who should be responsible for taking it, which NGO to work with, and how much funding would be required.
  • It is essential to have active participation of in-country staff to inform the purpose and approach and a staff member dedicated to the follow-up and implementation of recommendations.
  • SCAs should be conducted in a time-frame of about six weeks up to two months, depending on the depth and scope of the study. A minimum of two weeks for field research and two weeks for the writing-up process is recommended. Reports should be published immediately after the assessment to guarantee timely relevance.
  • The practical application of the SCA depends on the conflict expertise of the users and whether or not they “ask the right questions”. Less experienced staff may require induction, training and support.
    (A different approach was followed in the Strategic Conflict Assessment in Nigeria in that an NGO led the process and support came from 4 different donors (including DFID). The lessons learned from that process are therefore different).

Commentary on the tool

  • The tool presents a very comprehensive form of conflict analysis, but with a methodological basis that is designed to be tailored to suit specific contexts and end users.
  • Some parts of the analysis outputs may become out of date quickly, and a higher level strategic assessment may not be appropriate as the basis for designing micro-level projects or sectoral interventions without further specific contextual analysis. It would therefore be ideal to complement the conflict assessment methodology with a lighter tool for more continuous monitoring of the programme and conflict situation.
  • The tool can be used at any point in the programming cycle and at various points in the conflict cycle in a country (i.e. pre-conflict, post-conflict).