A day on Conflict Sensitivity

Published on September 23, 2014 | Categorised in: Uncategorized

On 9/11 2014, a coincidental yet perhaps also symbolic date, IPAT facilitated a learning event on ‘conflict-sensitivity’ with staff of the Stability and Humanitarian Affairs Unit of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Netherlands are one of the supporting donors to IPAT, so it was a pleasure to be able to work together again.

The positive feedback at the end of the day confirmed very much the effectiveness of how the event had been designed, which in turn emerged from close preparatory collaboration with the Unit’s point person on ‘conflict sensitivity’. Indeed, rather than organising a ‘one-day course’, relying quite a lot on input from the outside ‘speaker/trainer/lecturer’, the event was designed to build on existing capacity within the Unit.

Key elements in the design were: a highly interactive approach, practical application, and building on existing experiences, keeping in-house resource people on-stage, and creating momentum for the Unit as such to take this further.

After only a short input for those who might not be very familiar with ‘conflict sensitivity/Do No Harm’, participants went quickly to application in small groups, around a scenario of a significant influx of refugees in an already fragile and highly politicised environment.

The subsequent reflection pointed at the value of a more refined framework than is often used (IPAT Resource Note: Conflict Sensitivity, May 2013), but also at the vital importance of looking not only at the operational level but also at the broader ‘strategy’ (the political positioning and overall portfolio of a donor/assistance partner, and of all major players) through a conflict-sensitive lens.

Later in the day, a recent experience was shared of an exercise initiated by the Ministry itself, to inquire into the conflict-sensitivity of its operating partners in an environment that from apparently stable had collapsed again into major violence. This exercice was not yet widely known within the Unit, and the event created an opportunity not only to share this in-house initiative, but also to collectively reflect on its current merits and how it can be further strengthened.

A number of challenges were identified, around which staff of the Unit exchanged views, tips and ideas with each other e.g. How can we pick up dangerous fault lines and rising tensions before there is an outbreak of major violence? What can we realistically hope to prevent/mitigate by being more conflict-sensitive, and how do we deal with what is really beyond our control? How do we avoid ‘analysis paralysis’ and its other extreme: ‘action-addiction’? How do we integrate conflict-sensitivity when there is pressure to spend? What is the realistic responsibility of HQ personnel in this?

There certainly seems room for the Unit as a whole to more systematically engage its operational partners in conversations about their respective capacities to work conflict-sensitively. The Unit can also build on what is already there and further develop some internal guidance materials, possibly drawing on existing resources such as those put together by the Consortium on Conflict Sensitivity or those developed by CARE and CDA Inc. No less important however was the recognition that there is unexplored potential to think together and learn from each other in this regard, through more extensive use of digital or physical ‘collaborative spaces’.


” I would like to thank you for making possible the workshop on conflict sensitivity we had last Thursday. From the feedback I received from colleagues, I got the idea that the success was in the very practical approach taken by Koenraad (focusing on how conflict sensitivity applies to our direct work). ”