Learning and Adaptive Management with the Crisis Management Initiative

October 2, 2017
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The Artisan Approach to Peacebuilding: Addressing Complexity through Learning and Adaptation

By Laura Salonen

Resolving conflict is a complex undertaking. Each conflict is unique in its characteristics, and changes over time. Efforts to prevent and resolve conflict wrap around transformational processes that seek to address the underlying political and societal tension. Conflicts are not static, as both escalation and de-escalation affect the alignment of actors, and opportunities available. As a pervasive feature in conflicted political systems, complexity presents both challenges and opportunities for peacebuilding. In complex environments, well-argued designs and preliminary results are overtaken by unpredictable events, as recently experienced in Yemen or Ukraine, for example. Rigidly linear mind-sets tend to fail. Resilience, the ability to absorb and adapt in the face of the unpredictable, provides the best insurance against shocks.

Iterative attitude becomes a methodological necessity to address complexity and strengthen the resilience of interventions. Such approach could be called “Artisanship for peace”. It focuses on learning from implementation, and ability to change the course to help deal with complexity in the practice of peacebuilding. Artisans orient themselves around the unique set-up of different contexts, instead of focusing on pre-defined, ideal and thus repeatable elements. Artisans accept that the necessary skills and the nature of process cannot be fully and explicitly identified, but this understanding is honed through a process of reflection. Importantly, artisans acknowledge and take responsibility of their own unavoidable influence in the system, even if they are “only” facilitating. Artisanship needs to be anchored with organizational practices that simultaneously enable goal-orientation and effective action.

Adaptive management acknowledges that an organization’s conflict analysis can never be perfect, or its design set in stone, but both require constant re-evaluation and adaptation. To support the adaptive management and eventually resourcing, organizational Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (PME) should not be composed of distinctive phases, but support a continuous loop of learning and iteration. This requires managed flexibility that finds a proper balance between effectiveness and accountability. It enables focused interventions while being tolerant of incompleteness and change.

The Crisis Management Initiative (CMI) is an independent Finnish organization that works to prevent and resolve violent conflicts through informal dialogue and mediation. Nobel Peace laureate and former President of Finland Martti Ahtisaari founded CMI in 2000. CMI has worked to build loops for learning and reflection through internal views, that are focused stocktaking and planning exercises discussing changes, results and lessons, and thereby helping navigate projects forward. CMI has also recently tested use of “critical friends”, including in evaluation and design of its global program to provide a further layer of external quality assurance.

How organizations can practice adaptive management to support learning will be discussed during the CMI hosted session: Learning and Adaptive Management in Peacebuilding at the Alliance for Peacebuilding Annual Conference, in Angle Room C on Friday, October 13 at 1:45 PM in FHI 360. In a participatory manner, the session will discuss concrete examples of how adaptive learning happens in peacebuilding organizations.

2017 Annual Conference
Learning and Adaptive Management in Peacebuilding
Friday, October 13
1:45 – 3:00 PM
FHI 360 Conference Center
1825 Connecticut Ave NW, 8th Floor
Washington, DC 20009