The design and architecture of peace processes: lessons learned in the wake of crises

Vicenç Fisas


This study aims to propose frameworks and models for the initial stages of negotiations, and make suggestions for their redesign that take into account the most common crises that inevitably arise during the process. A range of variables are used to analyse different methodologies and forms of mediation and facilitation, along with the kinds of actors that may be involved, resulting in some 120 recommendations.

This work is based on the author’s own experience both of monitoring peace processes of the last 15 years and of being actively involved in a number of them.

Key findings:

  • At government level, many negotiations rely on the leadership of a country’s president or prime minister, who directs the negotiation process in a highly personal manner. There are now few cases where peace commissioners or advisors lead the negotiations, with the president’s blessing. In these cases, the commissioners always tend to have a negotiating team, with highly varied profiles in terms of their decision-making capacity. If a country has a number of armed groups at the negotiation stage, it is normal to have a different negotiating team for each group, although ultimate responsibility rests with just one person appointed by the country’s president. On some occasions, the person responsible for the negotiations may be a minister, a governor (particularly in regional conflicts) or other public official.
  • There are scarcely any official organisations or bodies monitoring the peace accords, which considerably weakens the level of guarantees that can be made and the confidence that can be had that the agreements will be fulfilled. The United Nations takes part in few negotiations formally, although it tends to be very active in terms of its good offices. Where it does lead negotiations, this is through personal envoys or special representatives of the Secretary General. The overall results have not been particularly positive in recent years. In terms of the involvement of regional bodies, the AU is the most active, due to its involvement in the different Sudanese conflicts, while the EU rarely steps in to lead a negotiation. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has had a difficult role to play as a mediating body, as it is responsible for a number of processes that have been at a standstill for some years. There are various cases where negotiations have been in the hands of a group of countries: via “troikas”, “quartets”, “contact groups”, etc. The experience here is not positive when one or more of the member countries is not impartial and is, instead, allied to one of the parties, particularly in conflicts between countries. These groups of countries are most active as “accompaniers” to a process, not leading it.


  • The most notable aspect required before work can begin on a negotiation process is the need to be fully assured that all parties believe the time has come to negotiate, knowing that flexibility and mutual concessions will be required. The initial framework must have the flexibility to be redesigned, should the need arise, without necessarily departing from the basic principles of a good negotiation.
  • Given that an unsuitable negotiating model or facilitator represents often the main reasons for a crisis, it is advisable to reaffirm often whether the negotiating model and its facilitators are appropriate or if they need to be reconsidered. Faith in the abilities, reliability and professionalism of the mediating body is essential. The negotiation phase is only one stage in a peace process, which includes a final stage in which agreements are implemented, and which is often a cause of failure. To prevent this, final agreements need to be realistic, viable and achievable.


Fisas, V. (2015). The design and architecture of peace processes: lessons learned in the wake of crises. Oslo: The Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre.