Strategic Plan


We are pleased to release this five-year plan, which outlines the United States Institute of Peace’s vision, mission, strategy, and priorities through 2019. We believe it is a substantial step forward in better positioning the Institute to prevent, mitigate and resolve violent conflict around the world and serve the interests of the United States and societies worldwide. The plan is the culmination of a year-long effort and the hard work of many individuals. We express deep appreciation to them all (a complete list is in printed version of this plan, which is available to your right). We now turn to implementation, without which plans are meaningless. In so doing we welcome the engagement of colleagues and partners around the world to help us achieve our shared mission of preventing, mitigating, and resolving violent conflict.

Graffiti on a wall in Misurata, Libya. USIP/Christina Murtaugh

I. Overview

The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) exemplifies America's commitment to peace and acts daily to uphold that commitment. We do so by engaging directly in conflict zones, where our staff and local partners take significant risks in the ongoing struggle against violence. We also provide education, training, analysis and resources to those working for peace.

Federally chartered and headquartered on the National Mall, USIP advances U.S. strategic interests while helping to protect the vulnerable from conflicts that devastate lives and livelihoods. These conflicts undermine legitimate governments that attempt to resolve disputes through laws rather than arms, and violate universal standards of human dignity. All too often, they sustain extremists and their vicious ideologies. Left unaddressed, these conflicts imperil America's economic and physical security. They threaten values we share with just societies worldwide.

To address these challenges, foresighted legislators included United States Institute of Peace Act in Title XVII of the Defense Authorization Act of 1985, creating an independent, nonprofit, national institute to "promote international peace and the resolution of conflicts among the nations and peoples of the world without recourse to violence." The bill responded to "the deep public need for the Nation to develop a full range of effective options, in addition to armed capacity, that can leash international violence and manage international conflict."

Nearly three decades later, USIP has lived up to the vision of our founders. We have trained thousands of peacebuilders in the U.S. government and armed forces, in civil society, and in conflict zones around the world – giving them concrete skills in areas such as conflict mediation, drafting fair laws and ensuring equal access to justice, interfaith dialogue and constitution-making. We have promoted dialogue in conflict zones, such as the life-saving peace initiative negotiated in Iraq's "Triangle of Death" at the request of the U.S. military. We have provided on-the-ground support to those developing concrete means to resolve conflicts through peaceful political transition and the just rule of law, in countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, Sudan, South Sudan and Burma. We have catalyzed the growth of an entire field of peacebuilding and conflict resolution, cultivating the professionals who are now our leading thinkers and supporting their seminal work. We have produced cuttingedge research on the causes of conflict and developed practical tools used by those working to reduce violence.

Yet, sustainable peace remains too elusive in too many countries. American troops, diplomats and aid workers have sacrificed too much – and the innocent victims of conflict have suffered even more. We therefore must do more, even more capably, to prevent and resolve violent conflicts around the globe. We must become even more effective at investing the taxpayer dollars that support our work. We must rededicate ourselves to our mission and strive to help those who risk their lives for peace in conflict zones worldwide.

This plan articulates how USIP will achieve our mission and serve the country in the coming five years. Based on a detailed and participatory internal review coupled with extensive consultations with stakeholders across the U.S. government, in both major political parties, and in organizations committed to the resolution of violent conflict, it lays out both a vision for USIP going forward and concrete steps to realize that vision. Recognizing that a strategic plan is only as good as its execution, the plan will be accompanied by a detailed implementation schedule, a re-alignment of existing resources, established metrics to determine progress and appropriate staffing.

II. Organizational Goals

To further our mission of preventing and resolving violent conflicts, USIP will seek to achieve three major goals over the next five years:

1) Reduce the frequency and intensity of violent conflict in at least three conflict zones through the focused application of USIP expertise, resources and approaches.
USIP will focus our efforts where the institution can make a meaningful difference in preventing, mitigating and resolving violent conflict. Conflict is rampant and USIP's resources are limited. Not all conflicts would benefit from USIP involvement. Not all conflicts feature appropriate local partners. The challenge for USIP is therefore to assess when and where we can make a difference and then marshal the collective resources of our own institution and those of partners to effect change. This requires us to develop a nuanced understanding of conflict dynamics, networks of appropriate partners and an acute sense of what USIP can contribute – and what it can't. It requires USIP to set priorities and to allocate resources to support those priorities. It requires a sustained presence in conflict zones and the institutional commitment necessary to support that presence. It also requires the discipline to end efforts that are not working or where the environment is no longer conducive. We work on some of the world's most pernicious problems and recognize that at least some failure is inevitable.

2) Become the world's leading resource for governments, organizations and individuals seeking to understand and promote strategies for preventing and resolving violent conflict.
To have the broadest possible impact, USIP must look beyond our own initiatives and help others who are also working for peace. USIP will therefore provide analytical, educational and financial resources to a global network of partners able to prevent or reduce violent conflict. We will help nongovernmental organizations, governments and leaders develop the institutional, legal and technical capacity to resolve conflicts without violence. And we will adapt these resources as new challenges and opportunities emerge. Already an established leader in this respect, USIP will redouble our efforts to increase the quantity, quality and utility of the resources we offer and the depth and breadth of our partnerships. In the process, we will elevate USIP to be the recognized world leader in conflict resolution and peacebuilding.

3) Demonstrate America's commitment to peace.
USIP's founders sought to demonstrate to the world America's commitment to peace, freedom and global prosperity. After more than a decade of war, the importance of this commitment endures. We must remind both American and global publics that the United States remains dedicated to reducing violence and defending human dignity. It is particularly vital to ensure that rising generations of young people understand America's enduring commitment to these principles. In addition to affirming this principle, it is important to provide practical guidance. As outlined in USIP's founding legislation, USIP will "educate the Nation about and educate and train individuals in peace and conflict resolution theories, methods, techniques, programs and systems." USIP will be a living monument to peace and will embody America's commitment to peace in everything it does at our headquarters in Washington, D.C., internationally and in conflict zones around the world.

How USIP Gets Results

III. How USIP Gets Results

USIP achieves our mission of preventing and resolving violent conflicts by drawing on four core strengths: presence in conflict zones, deep expertise, relationships and partnerships and a special relationship with the U.S. government.

Presence in Conflict Zones

USIP maintains a presence in conflict zones around the world, giving us direct and regular contact with the people who are best positioned to achieve sustainable peace. In some countries, this presence includes a USIP office or fulltime staff members who work closely with USIP partners. In others, USIP staff visit regularly to support our partners. The extent and nature of our engagement is guided by political and security considerations, resources and opportunities for USIP to directly or indirectly support activities that prevent and resolve conflicts.

In all cases, USIP prefers a "light footprint" – giving others the power to prevent and mitigate violence in their societies rather than imposing solutions. This approach is both effective and cost-effective. USIP's unobtrusive presence in conflict zones is essential to our work. Sustained engagement enables USIP to maintain long-standing relationships that are built on trust and last for years. Since USIP staff can move outside national capitals and fortified embassy compounds, this presence gives USIP staff the ability to interact more frequently and easily with a range of local actors in different regions, which contributes to a deeper understanding of conflict dynamics in the countries in which we work. It also allows us to engage new voices and emerging constituencies for peace.

While we aspire to end violent conflict, our nearer-term goal is to build the capacity of others to manage conflicts in their own countries as conflicts emerge and sometimes re-emerge. USIP does not aim to remain engaged until sustainable peace is achieved in all conflict zones. Rather, we identify conflicts where USIP can make a difference and then reduce our involvement as the ability to manage conflicts peacefully by domestic institutions rises. If security deteriorates substantially, USIP finds insufficient local partners or there are insufficient resources, USIP may choose to exit a conflict even if violence persists.


USIP's staff has a combination of expertise that is both powerful and distinctive. Our experts have extensive understanding of the countries and regions in which they work, and bring with them extensive knowledge and experience in the complex politics, economics and security environments present in most conflict zones. Our experts know the cultures and speak the relevant languages. They also have deep subject matter expertise on issues such as the rule of law, conflict dynamics, rebuilding post-conflict economies, the role of religion in conflict resolution, police and security sector reform, overcoming sectarian divides, the role of business and technology in preventing and managing conflicts, the impact of conflict on women and how women can be forces for peace in their societies – not just victims of war. USIP staff members are experts in the practices of conflict resolution such as organizing and empowering civil society, mediation, negotiation, developing educational curricula and dialogue. This expertise is built through in-depth research and on-the-ground engagement in conflict zones and is shared widely through publications, training, public commentary and private consultations. It benefits our partners and those affected by conflict, and the U.S. policy makers and legislators whose work we inform. Overall, USIP's expertise is highly specialized. It is a national asset that requires a sustained investment.

Relationships and Partnerships

USIP's approach relies on an extensive network of partners in conflict zones and around the world. This network allows us to tap the best and most relevant expertise to address unique conflict dynamics, connect disparate communities and bridge divides. USIP's approach puts local partners at the center of our conflict resolution efforts, which we believe is more effective and less expensive than a more intrusive foreign intervention. It also builds the local institutions and capabilities necessary to prevent, mitigate and resolve conflicts without violence over the long term. USIP's network is truly global. It includes international organizations such as the United Nations, NATO, the World Bank and global NGOs. It includes local organizations and government ministries that operate within specific conflict zones. It includes peacebuilding and educational institutions that operate in the United States and around the world. Importantly, it also includes USIP partners in the U.S. government, particularly the U.S. State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development and U.S. Department of Defense. Often USIP's role is to connect these communities, for instance by publishing jointly developed guidelines to inform how these organizations can interact effectively in conflict zones.

Independent but Close to Government

USIP is a nonpartisan, independent agency created by the U.S. Congress, with a bipartisan Board appointed by the President of the United States. This status – formally independent but with a special link to the U.S. government – allows USIP to play a distinctive role in addressing violent conflicts. Because USIP is independent, we are free to focus on the long, hard task of conflict resolution, regardless of what occupies news headlines and government in-boxes. We are freer to engage civil society organizations, militaries and governments in conflict zones, unburdened by diplomatic formalities and well positioned to listen. Because USIP's sole task is to reduce violent conflict and promote peace, we are often welcomed more warmly than other government agencies with more complex agendas to manage. USIP's close relationship to the U.S. government carries significant benefits. Because of USIP's special status, USIP is a trusted connector between foreign civil societies and U.S. government officials. We are a valued partner to U.S. government agencies, supporting conflict resolution efforts in conflict zones, providing policy input and conducting informed on-the-ground assessments of conflict dynamics. USIP's efforts both complement and support other U.S. government efforts, providing a unique asset to both U.S. government agencies and other partners globally.

USIP marshals these four strengths to:

1) Bring together adversaries and stakeholders to resolve conflicts without recourse to violence.
To achieve sustainable peace, adversaries must build trust and address differences. USIP consistently bridges divides – and helps our partners to do so – in order to prevent, mitigate and resolve conflicts.

2) Strengthen those working for peace in conflict zones and around the world.
Individuals and institutions seek peace and are willing to work for it. Yet, they may lack the skills or resources necessary to reduce conflict. USIP provides education and training, best practices and conflict resolution tools, financial support, research and analysis, curricula and technology to support people and institutions where the capacity to reduce conflicts exists and to build this capacity where it does not.

3) Change attitudes and behaviors that influence the trajectory of conflicts.
Through public dialogues, educational curricula, media programs and public education initiatives, USIP and our partners promote alternatives to violence. We support those who seek to resolve conflicts through dialogue, politics and the rule of law.

4) Inform policies and practices of U.S. government agencies and other organizations positioned to reduce conflict.
Governments and nonprofit organizations have influence on conflicts around the world. USIP provides expertise to these organizations that need to craft policies and practices effectively. We do this through training and education, which reaches thousands of people working to reduce conflict. We do this through research and analysis on topics such as rebuilding Afghanistan's economy, land reform in Colombia, countering sectarian sentiment in Iraq, preventing sexual violence by peacekeeping forces and best practices in conflict stabilization. We do this by convening key organizations able to reduce conflict. In all these areas, USIP is an innovator that brings new thinking to tough challenges and then translates insight into action.

IV. Priorities and Initiatives

To accomplish the objectives laid out in this strategy, USIP will strengthen our support to individuals, organizations and governments that share our mission, enhance our own capacity to prevent and resolve violent conflict and improve our public engagement. In so doing, USIP will achieve even greater impact with the resources at our disposal.

1) Strengthen individuals and institutions working for peace and improve the analytical, educational and other resources USIP provides to them.

  • Create a new Center for Applied Research on Conflict (ARC): USIP will create a new center of excellence to conduct, commission and publish cutting-edge research and analysis. This research and analysis will be evidence-based and practically-oriented to help those seeking more effective policies and practices to prevent and resolve conflict without violence. In consultation with USIP colleagues and those working to promote peace around the world, ARC will develop a proactive research agenda to analyze emerging trends and evaluate what works – and what does not – in conflict management. It will pull together new and existing USIP resources on themes related to the prevention and mitigation of violence such as countering violent extremism, preventing election violence, countering sectarian sentiment and negotiating and implementing peace agreements. It will develop and strengthen peacebuilding toolkits that can aid both USIP and others seeking to resolve conflicts nonviolently. ARC will also look forward, analyzing emerging trends in global conflict as well as appropriate responses.
  • Strengthen the USIP Academy's reach and impact: USIP will expand the offerings and impact of the USIP Academy, the Institute's training and education center. We serve both U.S. and foreign audiences at our headquarters in Washington, D.C., in tailored training programs overseas and via a growing roster of on-line courses. To better serve these audiences, the Academy will conduct a major review of its curriculum, proactively engage other divisions of USIP and evaluate and upgrade our online and in-person offerings. The USIP Academy will work with new and existing partners in the United States and globally to build long-term programs that enhance the capacity of individuals and institutions working for peace. In cooperation with other U.S. government agencies, USIP will expand our offerings of professional education courses for U.S. government personnel who require training on conflict resolution skills and education in complex conflict environments.
  • Launch a PeaceTech Lab: USIP will launch a PeaceTech Lab to identify and develop practical technological solutions to real peacebuilding challenges. Building on existing efforts to monitor and prevent election violence in Afghanistan; evaluate how social media is being used in the ongoing civil war in Syria; train Iraqi civil society organizations to better use technology to monitor and respond to violence; and develop open source platforms to facilitate cooperation between U.S. government agencies, armed forces and international civil society organizations working in conflict zones; USIP will provide critical new resources for those working for peace. These technological solutions will be appropriate to the conflict zones in which they will be used, which will often mean adapting and disseminating widely available and relatively low-tech applications rather than developing cutting-edge new solutions.
  • Strengthen select institutions that prevent and resolve violent conflict in conflict zones: USIP recognizes that the most sustainable way to create peace is to support people and institutions in conflict zones that will work for peace even if U.S. government attention turns elsewhere. As a result, USIP will build upon successful efforts in Iraq, Libya and South Sudan and invest funds, expertise and training to strengthen carefully-selected partner institutions overseas. After a thorough vetting process, we will provide core funding for these institutions instead of merely project funding that can divert the energy and resources of these institutions away from what should be their core mission: reducing violent conflict and building societies based on the rule of law, inclusive social norms and sustainable economic growth.
  • Create a new network of peace funders: USIP will work together with funders to highlight and vet worthy peacebuilding initiatives in conflict zones that lack sufficient funding. USIP has more than 25 years of grant-making experience and knows how to leverage grant funding to help prevent and resolve violent conflict. USIP also has deep regional expertise and strong networks of local organizations that are doing important work in conflict zones. For these reasons, USIP can be a valuable partner to funders with less experience working in the peacebuilding space, less reach into conflict-affected areas or simply a desire for more impact. USIP will work with grant recipients when necessary to ensure they are ready to receive funding and implement projects successfully. Together, the funders' network will advance the shared objective of building sustainable peace more effectively than any one of our members could alone.

2) Strengthen USIP's capacity to prevent and resolve violent conflict.

  • Streamline activities and focus resources where USIP can have the most impact: USIP will narrow our focus and prioritize. This will require organizational discipline, strong leaders that are held accountable for results, an alignment of priorities and resources and appropriate staffing. As a key step, USIP will reorganize our internal structures and processes to reflect and incentivize this approach. We will align our many tools, including education and training, grantmaking and expertise on topics such as mediation and the rule of law to support our strategies in particular conflict zones. As USIP expands our emphasis on working on the ground in conflict zones, we must develop the staff, administrative and financial systems, security procedures and management structures necessary to support such activities. Streamlining will require USIP to assess rigorously where and how we engage and disengage, recognizing that we should only apply our resources where we can make a meaningful difference in preventing or mitigating conflicts. We should always have a clearly articulated theory of how our activities will lead to the desired change. We should exit conflicts when we are not able to do that, when others have a comparative advantage or when there is sufficient local capacity to manage conflict. This approach will require a more rigorous process of project design, stronger evaluation and monitoring, and a shared understanding of the criteria USIP applies for entering and exiting conflicts.
  • Strengthen expertise and presence in key world regions: USIP will sustain our focus on South and Central Asia (particularly Afghanistan and Pakistan) and the Middle East and North Africa (particularly Iraq, Syria, the Arab-Israeli conflict and Libya). These conflict zones are likely to remain critical to both U.S. interests and to the stability of their respective regions. To serve these priorities, USIP will evaluate where we need to add additional capabilities, in terms of staff, resources and onthe- ground presence. In addition, we will continue to expand our programs in Africa, with a particular focus on Sudan and South Sudan, Nigeria and Somalia, where the opportunity for peace is great and remarkable success has been won – but where violent extremism is growing and where gains could easily reverse. USIP will continue our efforts in the Asia-Pacific (particularly Burma and Northeast Asia) and Latin America (particularly Colombia), scaling them up as U.S. interests demand and resources allow.
  • Create an integrated Center on Governance, Law and Society (GLAS): To better address the challenges posed by weak governance and states susceptible to conflict, USIP will create a new Center on Governance, Law and Society (GLAS). GLAS will bring together existing USIP strengths on the rule of law, economics and peacebuilding, media and technology, religion and gender to create more unified approaches to addressing the interconnected phenomena of crime, insecurity, inequality, corruption, weak institutions of governance and divided societies. GLAS will continue to implement activities in conflict zones around the world. It will also produce analysis and practical toolkits to help build the capacity of others to address these challenges.
  • Intensify USIP's commitment to excellence: To ensure excellence and impact in everything USIP does, we will implement rigorous new processes to maintain consistent high standards in USIP publications, project design and project evaluation. USIP will also implement a regular schedule of program evaluations that look at whole areas of operation, in addition to discrete projects. This step both enhances learning and signals the priority USIP places on evaluation and impact.
  • Strengthen evaluation and learning: USIP works in incredibly complex environments on incredibly difficult challenges. Having more impact will therefore require even more rigorous efforts to evaluate our efforts and learn from both successes and failures. USIP has already elevated our head of learning and evaluation to a vice president who serves on USIP's leadership team and expanded the number of professionals in that office. USIP will implement a stringent monitoring and evaluation system based on a shared commitment to learning. We will incorporate learning and evaluation into every phase of our projects, from initial design through the entire project cycle. Though we have built a team of experts to guide this process, we will train staff across our institution to incorporate evidence-based learning and evaluation into everything they do. This commitment will require more regular and systematic training, performance evaluation and improved systems.
  • Increase resources: USIP will develop plans and programs to increase USIP's annual revenue from the Congressional appropriation, Academy tuition receipts, facilities rental and sponsorships, and agreements with U.S. government partners. A higher level of resources is both more appropriate to, and necessary to achieve, a mission of USIP's breadth and importance.
  • Complete renovations of USIP properties: The U.S. Congress granted USIP jurisdiction over two buildings on Navy Hill that require renovation before occupancy. Renovating of these buildings will relieve space pressures that hinder USIP's mission.
  • Recruit, develop and retain the best talent: Achieving USIP's mission requires a flexible and highly-skilled workforce with specialized knowledge and capabilities. USIP must develop new methods to attract and retain these employees in ways that also allow us to adapt rapidly to changing demands. USIP will enhance our employee management system to cultivate and reward the capabilities and performance we most need and value.

3) Strengthen USIP's public engagement in order to advance USIP's mission and raise awareness of USIP's activities.

  • Strengthen USIP's public engagement: USIP requires widespread support and engagement to accomplish our mission. USIP must therefore communicate our priorities and activities more effectively, through an improved website, more compelling print and web-based materials, translation of materials into critical world languages, enhanced use of social media and a more succinct public narrative that captures our message in the fewest possible words. We must also build stronger relationships with key stakeholders in the executive branch, Congress, the media and the global peacebuilding community and communicate more regularly with our many supporters, including our own alumni. Through curriculum materials, the website, outreach activities and a proposed public venue, USIP will also expand access to high-quality educational materials that teach young people how conflicts are resolved, peace is achieved and how they can make a difference.
  • Consider a new public engagement space in the USIP headquarters: Pending Board approval, USIP will investigate whether to create a public education center in the space intended for this purpose when our headquarters was designed. Building on USIP's existing educational outreach, this center would demonstrate that there are established practices that can make peace more likely and historical examples that show that reducing violent conflicts is feasible. Located on the National Mall in the heart of the nation's capital, this educational center would provide an important complement to the many memorials to Americans' service in war and fulfill the vision presented in USIP's founding Congressional act. Should USIP and our Board choose to move forward, the initiative would be funded through private funds and public-private partnerships with foundations and other donors that share our commitment to public education, as permitted by USIP's founding legislation (as amended).
  • Enhance the Institute's role as a forum for peace: USIP has long provided a public forum for global figures working for peace and a private forum for behind-the-scenes dialogues that facilitate peace, such as those hosted by USIP during wars in Afghanistan, the Balkans and Iraq. By hosting such events, we seek to promote dialogue about tough issues confronting the United States and our partners worldwide. We seek to enhance both public and private activities in this regard, making a practical contribution to peace as well as a symbolic demonstration of America's commitment to a more just and less violent world. USIP's architecturally stunning headquarters facility, located across Constitution Avenue from the Lincoln Memorial and within sight of our nation's Capitol Building and Arlington National Cemetery, provides an ideal setting for important messages and dialogues about peace.

V. Conclusion

USIP has served the nation and pursued our mission of preventing, mitigating and resolving violent conflicts for nearly three decades. Our goal is enduring peace in all the world's regions. While we aspire to a world without violent conflict, we know peace will not come easily. We must therefore devote ourselves even more diligently to our cause and to our partners who share it. We must find even more effective ways to achieve our mission. We must persist, together, in the struggle for peace.