Preparing high-level advisers to support reform of postconflict states requires specific training in how to transfer knowledge in a complex, alien environment, how to operate without formal authority, and how to cultivate local ownership.



  • As part of their efforts to support the rebuilding and reform of postconflict and transitional states, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the United Nations, and other members of the international community are sending international advisers to work alongside high-level officials in national institutions.
  • Advisers are recruited for their strong professional expertise in fields such as logistics and human resources. However, they have had little preparation in transferring that knowledge to others, especially in a transitional or postconflict environment.
  • If they are to contribute to sustainable reforms, advisers need to be taught how to transfer knowledge in a complex and alien environment, how to operate without formal authority, and how to cultivate local ownership.
  • Launched in 2010, a U.S. Department of Defense program to train advisers for institution-building activities in Afghanistan—Ministry of Defense Advisors, or MoDA—has incorporated lessons learned by former advisers and emphasized four principles originally developed for a USIP training course: supporting local ownership; designing for sustainability; doing no harm; and demonstrating respect, humility, and empathy. As of March 2012, five MoDA cohorts have been deployed and have performed effectively.
  • The MoDA experience, together with insights gained from teaching courses at USIP and other venues, suggests that a good curriculum for training high-level advisers in any sector of government should include four parts: lessons on about how to be an effective adviser, including techniques for building relationships and communicating across cultures; briefings on the situation in the country; substantive information about the sector in which the adviser will work; and preparation through practice.

About the Report

The international community increasingly deploys advisers to work alongside high-level officials in postconflict and transitional countries as part of the peacebuilding and reform process. But those advisers are often underprepared to do their jobs. Drawing on the author’s experience in helping to design and develop an innovative U.S. Department of Defense training course for advisers, this report finds that many existing training programs fall short and explains what can be done to produce more effective advisers.

About the Author

Nadia Gerspacher is a senior program officer in the Academy for International Conflict Management and Peacebuilding at the United States Institute of Peace. In addition to developing and teaching courses on police reform and capacity building, she serves on several U.S. government working groups to advise on curriculum development and training delivery for advisers, mentors, and trainers working with foreign partners on security-sector reform.

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