Building institutional capacity for conflict-sensitive practice: The case of international NGOs

This report looks at the factors that drive international development organisations towards or away from integrating conflict analysis into their programming.

In the post-Cold War period, the nature of conflicts has changed, with conflict moving closer to civilians as combatants, victims or (perceived) supporters of one or the other faction.

International development and humanitarian NGOs that seek to address the needs of civilians have become operational in more war zones than ever before and, while conflict has always been a pervasive feature of their work in many areas of the world, they have become more aware of the inevitable two-way relationship between conflict and their programmes, staff and partners.

Some have developed policies and operational guidelines to support the development of conflict-sensitive programmes. But less attention has so far been paid to building institutional capacity to apply these policies and tools, despite the significant impact of broader organisational development on the ability of INGOs to mainstream conflict sensitivity. The paper focuses on organisational issues rather than wider strategic concerns or the challenges of the external environment in which agencies operate, notably the ‘War on Terror’.

Mainstreaming conflict sensitivity is a strategic choice that influences – and is influenced by – the organisation’s norms, power structures and practice. The key to successful mainstreaming is establishing a close link between the organisation’s mandate and conflict sensitivity, whether the focus is on peacebuilding or integrated programming.