Confronting War: Critical Lessons for Peace Practictioners

Wednesday, January 1, 2003
Mary B. Anderson & Lara Olsen

The findings in this publication are the result of a three-year examination of many practical experiences of peace practice.

The Reflecting on Peace Practice Project has involved over two hundred international, national, and local peace agencies around the world. Through a collaborative learning effort, these agencies have pooled their experience and their wisdom to reflect on, assess, and learn more about the practice of peace. The purpose of this effort was to learn from experience what has worked and what has not worked, and why. Many joined this effort because they wanted to improve their effectiveness; they wanted to see if, and how, they could have a greater impact on the ending of war and the achievement of peace.

Organized by the Collaborative for Development Action (Cambridge, Massachusetts in the United States), the Reflecting on Peace Practice Project focused specifically on the peace practice of agencies that cross borders. It seemed clear that an international effort could not presume to improve peace practice undertaken by people in their own conflicts. However, in so many current conflicts, “outside” peace practitioners join with local activists to partner in their work. Consequently, it was essential also to engage peace agencies from areas of conflict in this exploration of the ways that external efforts can be truly helpful.

The first step in learning from experience is to gather a great deal of it. Over an eighteen month period, RPP conducted twenty-six case studies on a wide variety of types of peace efforts, undertaken in a range of geographical settings, in different stages of conflict, at different levels of society, and with varying forms of connectedness to local, indigenous peace efforts. (Appendix 1 lists these case studies.) These case studies were done at the invitation of the agencies involved, to capture their internal reflections on their work, as well as the views of a wide range of counterparts – participants, partnering local and international NGOs and other agencies, communities affected by the work, representatives of relevant levels of government, etc. The cases were conducted through field visits to the areas where the programs were undertaken.

As these case studies were collected, RPP organized several consultations bringing together more than eighty peace practitioners—again both those who live in conflict situations and those who work outside their own countries. These practitioners reviewed and reflected on what the cases were telling us.

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Confronting War: Critical Lessons for Peace Practictioners