Peace-building and Local Knowledge Network (PLNK)

This project is part of the CIPS Fragile States Research Network

Benjamin Zyla

Description of Research Project:

Challenge: International interventions are common in today’s world. States, intergovernmental organizations and non-state actors routinely engage in a wide range of activities –development aid, disaster relief, humanitarian assistance, and peace operations –that aim to change political, economic and/or social conditions in sovereign states other than their own. The effectiveness of these interventions depends crucially on how well intervening actors understand local realities, perspectives, and priorities. Peace building interventions – our immediate focus in this grant proposal –are a case in point. These operations formally aim to help mitigate or resolve conflicts in the societies and states in which they are deployed. Detailed knowledge of local actors, histories, cultures, languages, geography and conflict dynamics is vital to successful peace building. Yet while there is near universal agreement among scholars and practitioners about the importance of local knowledge in peace building –and in other international interventions – there is no consensus on what local knowledge is, much less how best to access it. Inpractice, moreover, intervenors not only struggle to integrate local knowledge in their decision-making but also face incentives not to do so. In short, while local knowledge is vital to the success of international interventions, it is notoriously difficult for outsiders to acquire and intervenors are inconsistent in whether, how and why they seek to access it.

Goals: We aim to develop a broader consensus among practitioners and scholars on a more complete understanding of local knowledge; and to systematically explore and compare the mechanisms by which international interveners seek local knowledge and the (dis)incentives they face to incorporating this knowledge in their decision-making. Within the parameters of this Partnership Development Grant, we focus exclusively on peace building interventions. We aim to build a network of scholars and practitioners focused on local knowledge dynamics in peacebuilding, and mobilise that network towards two goals. First, to develop and disseminate a common terminology and typology capturing the various kinds of local knowledge relevant to peace building interventions and the causal mechanisms underlying the use (or non-use) of local knowledge in organizational decision-making. Second, to create, validate and promote a pilot Organizational Benchmark Instrument, a standardized, analytically-informed questionnaire that allows practitioners and scholars to identify the local knowledge integration practices pursued by individual peace building actors, to identify gaps, and to compare these practices more systematically across actors, geographical contexts, and time.

Partnership: The partnership consists of individuals and organizations from academia (Universities Ottawa, British Columbia, Reading, Konstanz, Tampere), think tanks and civil society organizations (NUPI, Social Terrain, Fafo Institute for Applied Social Sciences) as well as one governmental organization responsible for the deployment of police officers and other experts to peace building interventions worldwide (CMC Finland). Organizations and individuals of the partnership were previously connected through a loose network that met once a year and identified local knowledge dynamics as a critical gap in research and practice. The unique set of partners ensures a tight integration of academic research and relevant policy advice. Partners on the practical side contribute with applied expertise, access to the field, and an institutional setup to develop and test policy recommendations under real-world conditions. Partners on the academic side contribute with analytical and methodological skills, capacities for case study data gathering and analysis, publication of findings for a general audience, and management of the partnership