Manual: 3 steps for working in fragile and conflict-affected situations

Esther Marthaler, Sidonia Gabriel


This manual provides a practical approach tailored for project management in fragile and conflict-affected situations; it was developed over several years of experience, as well as workshops, meetings and discussions with fieldworkers. The 3-Step approach focuses on aspects of violence and fragility that are relevant to development programmes or projects. It promotes a subjective or self-assessing method and brings to the surface locally relevant governance problems. The aim of the approach is to avoid possible negative impacts and to foster a positive impact on the fragile and conflict-affected context. As such, it can help identify possible entry points for conflict transformation and peacebuilding strategies and activities.

Key Findings:

  • Step 1: Understanding the conflict context An organisation working in fragile and conflict-affected situations is part of the context. Its representatives should understand the actors related to conflict and fragility, tensions and the conflict-related events and have a basic understanding of the related governance and fragility issues. The conflict-context analysis focuses on factors, which can reduce or increase tensions. It looks at key actors, Sources of Tensions (SOT), Connecting Elements (CE) as well as key questions on (local) governance. The scope and depth of the conflict-context analysis depend on its aim, use and the context in which it is conducted.
  • Step2: Understanding the interaction between the organisation and the conflict context What is the interaction between the identified elements of conflict and fragility and the project/programme, i.e. between the programme, the organisation and their relations with partners and stakeholders? A list of sample questions regarding these elements helps to identify relevant factors in the programme, which create tensions or have a positive impact on the conflict context. They are often related to information sharing/communication, the transfer of resources and whatever implicit messages we send with different types of every-day behaviour.
  • Step 3: Strategic decisions for programme and project management Based on the factors which are creating tensions or are having a positive impact on the conflict context that have been identified, strategic management choices have to be developed. The three fields of observation – programme, organisation and relations – need to be considered. Adjustments of the projects to the conflict context have to become part of the programme management cycle.


The manual gives several general recommendations on how to conduct the conflict context analysis in a participatory and gender sensitive manner, including:

  • Step 1: At the level of the conflict context analysis, it is crucial to invite a wide-ranging group of stakeholders, particularly local stakeholders—including women. The involvement of beneficiaries of the intervention is extremely helpful in order to get an in-depth and broad-based analysis, and to learn about experiences and sensitive issues in the field. The ownership of stakeholders will increase if they are invited to contribute at this stage.
  • Step 2: The interactions between the organisation and the context are further analysed together with the most relevant stakeholders and those who are directly involved in the implementation on the ground.
  • Step 3: This step is about decision-making and possible (re-)adjustments of the programme to the context. The management of the programme must be included at this stage even though decisions may affect all stakeholders, including beneficiaries. Therefore it is important to regularly cross-check the conflict context analysis with all relevant stakeholders, get feedback on the adjustments and to be up to date on changes in the immediate contexts.


Marthaler, E. and Gabriel, S. (2013). Manual: 3 steps for working in fragile and conflict-affected situations. Bern and Zurich: Helvetas.