Peacebuilding Expands Across Disciplines, Study Shows

Published: 
May 11, 2012
By: 
Steven Ruder

Peacebuilding is increasingly viewed as a methodological “lens” through which practitioners in related fields integrate key principles of peacebuilding into the structure and objectives of their work, according to new research unveiled at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) on May 11. Such a lens adds a new dimension to the ways in which practitioners design and assess development and stabilization interventions.

Peacebuilding is increasingly viewed as a methodological “lens” through which practitioners in related fields integrate key principles of peacebuilding into the structure and objectives of their work, according to new research unveiled at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) on May 11. Such a lens adds a new dimension to the ways in which practitioners design and assess development and stabilization interventions.

This lens could represent a new wave of innovation for the hundreds of organizations that work in conflict zones, experts said at a USIP-Alliance for Peacebuilding conference, “Peacebuilding 2.0: Managing Complexity and Working Across Silos.” According to the panelists, the peacebuilding lens enables increased local ownership and effectiveness across a variety of sectors while also de-escalating violent situations.

“The fundamental principles of peacebuilding - drawing upon local human capital, building capacity, sustainability, ‘do no harm’, transparency - as well as basic conflict resolution skills such asnegotiation, facilitation and communication - are all important aspects of what we can contribute to those in the health field, or development, or security, or those working in the religious sector, etcetera,”  said Jeff Helsing, dean of curriculum for the USIP Academy for International Conflict Management and Peacebuilding.

Helsing and other panelists discussed the findings of a USIP-funded study to map the demographics and principles of the peacebuilding field, which has grown rapidly since the end of the Cold War, and make practical recommendations to strengthen peacebuilding as a field of policy and practice. Called the Peacebuilding Mapping Project, the study analyzed surveys of 119 organizations, some of which self-identified as “peacebuilding organizations” and others who often partnered with peacebuilding organizations. Commissioned by USIP and the Alliance for Peacebuilding, the study was executed by the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies at the University of San Diego. 

>Among its findings, the survey uncovered that 79 percent of the members of the Alliance for Peacebuilding were established after 1990. It also found that there is no precise definition of the term “peacebuilding,” but determined that its key characteristics include building trust, social cohesion and inclusion; promoting non-violence and political participation; and advancing human development. According to the panelists, these results indicate a new post-Cold War idea that peace encompasses more than the prevention of all-out war between superpowers. 

The survey showed that even organizations that do not include peacebuilding as part of their official mission also work in many of the same areas, and with similar methods, as self-described peacebuilding organizations. These other groups include academic institutions, think tanks, development NGOs, civic associations, advocacy organizations, and donor organizations. Students graduating from the burgeoning peace studies academic discipline should consider careers in these organizations in addition to traditional peacebuilding institutions, said Melanie Greenberg, president and CEO of the Alliance for Peacebuilding.

The final results of the study are scheduled to be released in June, but the audience at USIP had an exclusive first look. “We now have a more differentiated understanding of the richness and diversity of the U.S.-based peacebuilding community,” said Necla Tschirgi, one of the authors of the study. 

“I think that what this does is validate the work that we are doing across sectors, across disciplines, in bringing in more organizations and disciplines into what really is a communal contribution to building sustainable peace,” said Helsing. Talking about the expanding reach of the peacebuilding lens, Greenberg made an analogy to the green movement in the United States, which grew from a tightly knit group of individuals and organizations to a more general philosophy that permeates many levels of business and culture.

The data gathered by the survey will help “ensure that peacebuilding steadily becomes a stronger and more coherent community, which can offer a common vision and identifiable sets of skills, approaches, and values to make the world a safer and more secure place,” said Tschirgi. 

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May 11, 2012