Working with Conflict: Skills and Strategies for Action

Primary purpose

Conflict analysis and intervention within the framework of conflict transformation (the handbook contains tools for analysis, planning, implementation and impact monitoring).

Intended users

Local and international NGOs, field and headquarters staff, mainly working on peacebuilding. Individual tools can be applied in a wide range of contexts, including development cooperation and humanitarian assistance. It is also used by national governments and donors.

Levels of application

Mainly project level and local conflicts, although it is also applicable to country-level analysis.

Conceptual assumptions

Conflict is complex, dynamic and a part of life. When it is violent it becomes destructive.

Conflict transformation is a holistic and multifaceted process of engaging with conflict. It aims to reduce violence and bring about sustainable justice and peace. It requires work in all spheres, at all levels and with all stakeholders.

The handbook contains an easily accessible introductory section on understanding conflict, which deals with different ways of making sense of conflict and violence, concepts of conflict transformation and the nature of peace processes. A further section is devoted to critical issues in conflict analysis, including power, culture, identity, gender and rights. Generally, the handbook takes a value-based approach to conflict, which is firmly grounded on the principles of active non-violence.

Main steps and suggested process

The handbook contains a series of tools for analysing conflict. The aim is to reach a multi-dimensional analysis of the conflict and find entry points for action. An important aspect is the inclusion of stakeholders in the analytical and decision-making process.

1. Stages of conflict

  • Identify stages of conflict
  • Predict future patterns
  • Select particular episode for further analysis

This tool identifies the different stages, levels and patterns of intensity of a conflict over a specific period of time. It assists in identifying indicators for different stages of conflict and violence. Stages of conflict can be used to represent different perceptions of a conflict.

2. Timelines

  • Clarify local conflict history
  • Help people know and accept each other’s understandings of history

This step provides graphic plotting of key conflict-related and other events against a particular timescale. It also highlights the different perceptions of the parties in the conflict.

3. Conflict mapping

  • Identify actors, issues and relationships
  • Identify potential allies and entry points for action

This tool helps visualising relationships between conflict actors (it can also include geographical mapping, mapping of issues or power alignments, mapping of needs and fears). The power relationships become evident through the relative size of actors in the diagram, lines between actors symbolise type of relationship (e.g. alliance, conflict over particular issue)

4. ABC (Attitudes, Behaviour and Context) Triangle

  • Gain insight into motivations of conflict parties and the structures or systems in place that contribute to the conflict
  • Identify the key needs of each party
  • Find entry points

For each conflict party, drawing an ABC triangle helps to understand the position from which each party is approaching conflict, the context within which conflict is taking place, and identifies key needs.

5. Onion

  • Move beyond public positions of each party
  • Prepare for facilitation, mediation or problem solving interventions

For each conflict party, an ‘onion’ of three concentric circles is drawn. These represent, from inside to outside, needs (‘what we must have’), interests (‘what we really want’), and positions (‘what we say we want’). It helps identify common ground between groups as basis for further discussions.

6. Conflict tree

  • Relates causes and effects to each other, and helps to focus interventions
  • Facilitates decision making on work priorities

A tree symbolises the core problem of the conflict (trunk), its underlying causes (roots) and effects (branches). It helps reaching agreement in groups on the core problem to be addressed, and shows the links between the underlying causes and the effects.

7. Force-field analysis (adapted)

  • Clarify negative and positive forces that are working for or against the continuation of violent conflict
  • Develop strategies for reducing/eliminating the negative and building on positive forces

It helps provide a visual analysis of positive and negative factors influencing a desired change or plan of action. Positive and negative forces are listed in parallel columns with arrows symbolising their relative strength.

8. Pillars

  • Find ways to weaken or remove factors supporting a negative situation
  • Upside-down triangle symbolises a (negative) situation, which is upheld by ‘pillars’ representing the forces maintaining this situation. This step increases understanding of structures sustaining an undesirable situation.

8. Pyramid

Find right approaches for working at different levels

  • Position own work
  • Identify potential allies

Two to three levelled pyramids show stakeholders at different levels of the conflict (e.g. top, middle, grass roots). It helps identify key actors/leadership and links between levels.

Most tools are best used during a workshop or community meeting, or within a team. Users can select and combine tools according to their specific needs. Most tools are more effective when used with the active involvement of communities and are designed to deepen their understanding of conflict issues. They need to be used with sensitivity to local circumstances.

Required resources

None, except a familiarity with the tools.

Lessons learnt

  • Using and developing the tools assist people to express their perspectives and understanding of the situation, as all perspectives are seen as valuable. The debate is focused on the issue rather than the individuals. This gives a more complete picture to all involved and clarifies the understanding of all.
  • It is important to use some or, indeed, all of the tools together, as a package, in order to gain full and nuanced understanding of complex conflict situations.
  • Adaptation of the tools to make them more familiar to participants is helpful. For example, in parts of Kenya the Conflict Stages diagram is referred to as the ‘camel’s hump’.

Commentary on the tool

Analysis is not a one-off activity. Because conflict, violence and peace are dynamic, analysis needs to be regularly updated.

Available reports

Some reports can be obtained on application from Responding to Conflict through the website:

Content for the section provided by: Simon Fisher, Dekha Ibrahim Abdi, Jawed Ludin, Richard Smith, Steve Williams, Sue Williams