Across a violent world, governments, U.N. agencies, foundations and peace organizations sponsor dialogue projects every year, working to reduce bloodshed. In national civil wars or local land disputes, trained “facilitators” guide antagonists toward compromise. But do these approaches work, and if so, how?

colombian women mediators
Colombian women mediators taking part in a dialogue.

Amid a storm of violent crises that have displaced more than 60 million people, it’s hard for organizations or governments to dedicate real time and money to learn about what makes these “facilitated dialogue” projects effective. While individual projects often are assessed, there is a dearth of evaluations that look across multiple, disparate projects. So over the past two years, USIP has conducted just such a wider assessment, to study how dialogue projects in general can be improved. The results offer clues that the institute and other peacebuilders can use to improve facilitated dialogue projects—one of the most-used tools in the world’s peacebuilding efforts.

The USIP study, by independent evaluators, examined more than 100 projects that the institute supported, using grants, over the past quarter-century from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Iraq, Libya, Nepal and other countries. A central goal: figure out how such projects can be designed and implemented to multiply their impact.

That multiplied impact comes when the benefits of a dialogue—better understanding and cooperation among conflicting groups—are “transferred” from the relatively few direct participants in the dialogue project to the much larger communities they represent.

Key findings of the study, described in a new USIP Special Report, include:

  • Projects since about 2000 have become more successful than before as they have shifted to focus on grassroots approaches. USIP’s evaluators suggest that this shift, away from working mainly with elites and policymakers, likely reflects (a) an evolution to more intra-state, rather than inter-state, conflicts; and (b) a better understanding in the peacebuilding field about the link between grassroots dynamics and wider conflicts of which they are a part.
  • Projects that more carefully select influential, credible participants tend to have greater success. Logically, influential participants were better able to transfer the understandings from dialogue to their communities.
  • The type and sequencing of activities in a project can better position it for success. One example: Some projects focused exclusively on dialogue. Others built the skills of their participants, training them in leadership or in analyzing and understanding the conflicts they confront. Projects succeeded most often, and transferred their benefits to the wider communities, when these “capacity building” efforts were combined with action or advocacy.
  • To change institutions, dialogue projects have better success when they engage mid-level leaders and win the support of top leaders. The top leaders did not have to participate in the dialogues to sustain the rates of success, but simply had to be aware and supportive of them.

USIP has used insights from the study to improve strategies of recent USIP grant projects. In publishing the full study, with its recommendations, the institute aims to offer its findings to other organizations in the peacebuilding field, ensuring that future dialogue projects can better improve the lives of people most harmed by conflict and violence.

Related Publications

Scott Worden on the Taliban in Afghanistan

Scott Worden on the Taliban in Afghanistan

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

By: Scott Worden

Following the horrendous bombing outside a Kabul voter registration center, Scott Worden shares his sobering analysis and commentary about the continuing war in Afghanistan where he says most agree that a military victory is unlikely. The conflicts grinding stalemate, Fall 2018 elections and presidential elections due a year from now concern Worden especially with today’s Taliban announcement of a new fighting season and rejection of President Ghani’s peace offering.

Violent Extremism; Electoral Violence; Conflict Analysis & Prevention

ISIS Attack on Afghan Voting Center Aims to Sow Ethnic Division

ISIS Attack on Afghan Voting Center Aims to Sow Ethnic Division

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

By: Scott Worden; USIP Staff

In Afghanistan, the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at a Kabul voting center that killed at least 60 people, including 22 women and eight children. More than 130 people were wounded, and Afghan police say many of the victims were waiting in line outside the center attempting to receive national identity cards in order to vote. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for October, but could be derailed by continued violence, low voter registration, and a lack of confidence in the electoral process. USIP expert Scott Worden analyzes what potential impact this incident and any future attacks could have on Afghanistan's electoral process.

Electoral Violence; Conflict Analysis & Prevention

Improving Afghanistan’s Public Finances in 2017–2019: Raising Revenue and Reforming the Budget

Improving Afghanistan’s Public Finances in 2017–2019: Raising Revenue and Reforming the Budget

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

By: William Byrd; Shah Zaman Farahi

The Afghan government has recently embarked on important reforms to the national budget, embodied in the 2018 budget approved by Parliament early this year. This budget sets in motion an envisaged two-year reform process to achieve greater overall transparency, better development programming, and reduced corruption. The third in a series on Afghanistan’s public finances, this report updates revenue performance in 2017 and assesses the new budgetary reforms, how the draft budget fared in Parliament, the outcome, and next steps and prospects for the reforms.

Economics & Environment

Making Peace Among Afghans: Kabul's View

Making Peace Among Afghans: Kabul's View

Friday, March 23, 2018

By: USIP Staff

Afghanistan’s government is focused on building consensus—both domestically and among states in the region—to support a peace process with the Taliban insurgency, according to the Afghan national security advisor, Hanif Atmar. The main challenges, he said, include continued support from Pakistan for the Taliban and an incremental recent Russian move toward immediate cooperation with the Taliban even without a peace process.

Peace Processes

View All Publications