Effective interventions

Doing development differently: A peacebuilding perspective

International Alert
United Kingdom

These are exciting times for the development sector. The Doing Development Differently initiative led by ODI and Harvard BSC programme is breathing new life into improving development interventions. The initiative has led to new practical approaches for implementing and designing programs that focus on solving local problems and a greater consideration of the changing context.

One of these approaches has been adaptive programming. Led by ODI, it is based on the understanding that development actors cannot fully grasp the complexity a particular development context at the outset of the intervention. Instead they need to react and respond to changing socioeconomic and political dynamics as their understanding develops[1].

Central to ODI’s adaptive programming approach is how the use of information and knowledge is informing changes in programming. However, how this information is gathered and used requires more than just knowledge management but is also shaped by programme relationships, personal and organisational[2]. To achieve this ODI emphasise the need to 1) bring different types of actor into the discussion, 2) promote explicit consideration of informal and formal relationships, and 3) provide space for more critical assessment of aid relationships and their impact on incentives for learning[3].

Given the importance on understanding relationships, there is significant evidence generated within the peacebuilding field that can support these efforts to improve learning and adaption. Research on the Dynamics of relations between different actors when building peace, suggests the nature of relationships defines the way actors interact or learn from each other[4].

The research shows that peacebuilding initiatives are more effective when they consider the differing socio economic and political aims, needs, interests and identities of local development actors. This means having greater consideration of the structural challenges that underlies these relationships such as, cultural, social, historical, material and power aspects.

Furthermore, research shows that knowledge of each actor’s perceptions i.e. the reasons why actors are thinking and behaving in a particular way, can lead to a deeper understanding of each other[5]. This process of understanding each other helps builds trust between development actors that can help provide a basis for developing adaptive and ‘politically smart’ strategies.

Clearly building these types of relationships takes time, which poses a challenge for short funding cycles. Nonetheless encouraging a shared learning journey that leads to a common understanding of the structural challenges and a shared vision for moving forward, promotes greater accountability and flexibility.

Developing a common understanding of relationships

To develop a shared understanding of one another, the development actors require a common framework of analysis. Based on a water rehabilitation programme in Freetown, I developed a framework based on a mixture of political economy analysis, stakeholder mapping, root cause analysis and conflict mediation literature[6].

Case study - Rehabilitating Freetown Water Supply, Sierra Leone

The illustrative example below is taken from a water rehabilitation programme in Sierra Leone. The objective of the programme is to support a publicly owned water company (PWC) to rehabilitate the water system so as to increase access to safe water in Freetown. From an initial desk based political economy analysis, I identified a number of major risks to the rehabilitation of the water supply.

One major risk was Disputed land rights issues. The initial analysis identified a number of households that are encroaching on the main water pipe or where households encroaching on protected lands are polluting the water supply. This will mean the installation of new water piping will require the resettlement of a number of households and businesses. In recent years the delivery of public services in particular water has become highly politicised[7]. During the 2012 elections, politicians in collaboration with communal chiefs would promise free access to water services to their constituents to gain popularity. In light of the political sensitivities of the water rehabilitation works the lack of clarity over land rights and challenges for resettlement, this will pose a major challenge to delivering the programme outcomes.

For this risk, I then explored using stakeholder, root cause analysis and conflict mediation techniques, I developed the following framework to demonstrate how the relationships between the PWC and other actors are affecting this risk.

Structural Challenges

Description of the structural challenge

Initial analysis of the relationship between PWC and Community members encroaching

Flows of information

Many of the challenges undermining the ability for actors to engage are limited due to problems with information flows.


These can be for a number of reasons i.e. a lack of resources to effectively reach the most isolated areas, limited knowledge at the local level, and limited number of physical spaces for constructive meetings to take place. 

Our in country team understand that PWC have been communicating with members of the community and in particular have been working with the Ministry of Land (ML) to resolve the land rights issues.


However the extent of how effective this communication has been or the ability of the ML to resolve these issues and engage with local communities remains limited.


Conflicting or Common Interests

Different actors will have different competing or common interests in relation to water system works. These interests can prevent actors from engaging effectively or lead to collective action for or against the rehabilitation works. These conflicting interests can be political or economic such as competition for votes or access to free water supply. Whereas common interests can be over mutual benefits such access to a reliable source of clean water.   

PWC and Encroachers will have competing interests over access to land. PWC could adopt a strict no-tolerance approach to encroachment around the facility, but enforcement is likely to be difficult.


These competing interests could undermine each actor’s attitude towards one another – preventing the ability to reach an amicable agreement.


Conflict or Common Values

Different actors will have conflicting values or common beliefs in relation to the rehabilitation works. Some will believe that water should be free or that they should follow the advice of a certain local chief. Meanwhile other actors may believe that water should be chargeable commodity or their local chief has more sway over others.

PWC and the encroachers will have different values attached to the belief in paying for water. This difference in values could prevent effective engagement between these two actors.



Institutional or Contractual issues

Established forms of governance or clear contractual agreements can provide a basis for building trust and collaboration.


Meanwhile weak institutions or inadequate contractual arrangements can often undermine the ability for actors to collaborate effectively.

Enforcing land rights is largely outside of the control of PWC. Any resettlement or dispute resolution of land rights will need to be overseen by the ML. Only ML has the legal right to embark on law enforcement against land encroachment.



Using this framework enables programme staff to explain the structural challenges to donors, local partners and other development actors in relation to the programmatic risks. At the same time it also provides programme staff with practical areas to focus their analysis and on going learning as the programme begins. As they continue to learn more about these relationships their analysis can be updated, shared and used to inform programme design.

Below is an illustrative example of how it is possible to present the different types of relationships PWC had with the relevant stakeholders. The type of line demonstrates the type of relationship based on the initial analysis. A strong relationship is a thicker line; a weak relationship is a dashed line. A description of each relationships detailed on the left hand side provides a basis for development actors to formulate a common understanding of the problem and a shared learning experience.

doing development diff

Please note this is an illustrative example only.

To support adaptive programming it is possible to use interactive visualisation tools, on an ongoing basis. This can be shared with other development actors to facilitate a process of developing a common understanding of the problem and shared learning experience.

Supporting strategies for learning and adaptive programming

According to ODI the essential structural challenge for adaptive programming is overcoming the barriers in formal and informal relationships. Therefore it is important for learning and adaptation to pay attention to unequal power dynamics in aid relationships[8].

Learning from the peacebuilding field, working with relationships that are asymmetric and unequal depends on how both parties handle the asymmetry. By creating a culture of greater collaboration between arties it is possible to address these different issues more effectively[9].

Promoting collaboration, cultural differences and commonalities are important aspects that need to carefully considered and included in planning, implementation and monitoring of projects. Below is an illustrative example based on the Sierra Leone case study examining how donors, implementing partners and local development actors can collaborate and overcome the constraints of adaptive programming.

By understanding how programme activities can provide a platform for building relationships can also facilitate a process of shared ownership that can overcome many of the constraints effecting adaptive programming. Based on the level of influence each development actors has i.e. donors with government officials, local civil society with local communities, specific relationships can be prioritised and responsibilities allocated and shared.


The Doing Development Differently debate has highlighted the need for all development actors to adapt to changes in human behaviour and relationships. Peacebuilding focuses on building of relationships that in their totality form new patterns, processes, and structures[10]. So far much of this literature has been confined to actors affected by conflict and violence. However as the increasing understanding that relationships lie at the heart of achieving sustainable development, the more relevant peacebuilding approaches can become to Doing Development Differently.


[2] Valters, C. (2016, forthcoming), Building peace and justice from below? Community mediation in Asia. Bangkok: The

Asia Foundation and ODI


[4] Dynamics of Relations between different Actors when Building Peace The Role of Hybridity and Culture, Anna Berhard, Berghof Foundation, 2013

[5] Mangat, Rupinder, “Reflection as Dialogue: Canadian Soldiers’ Experiences of Dialogue with Afghans”, 2011 wp-content/uploads/2011/10/magnatccpaper. pdf.

[6] Negotiation and mediation techniques for natural resource management by Antonia Engel Benedikt Korf, Prepared in the framework of the Livelihood Support Programme (LSP), FAO, 2005

[7] The political economy of the urban water-pricing regime in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Overseas Development Institute, 2012


[9] Anderson, Mary B. and Lara Olson, Confronting War: Critical Lessons for Peace Practitioners. The Collaborative for Development Action, Cambridge, USA, 2003.

[10] John Paul Lederach, Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Institute of Peace Press, 1997), 75.


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