Conflict analysis tools

Numerous toolkits and manuals provide models of how to conduct conflict analysis. There is no one best practice or one methodology for conflict analysis to lead to better programming, finds CDA Collaborative (2013), based on analysis of 26 case studies and 1,000+ consultations with practitioners. Choosing the most appropriate tool depends on the context; the commissioning actor; the purpose of the conflict analysis; the focus of analysis; and what resources are available (staff, funding and capacity).

Most of the tools were published in the 2000s, and only a few have been updated. There is no way to assess from the literature which tools are more or less popular, or more or less used, in an objective or comprehensive way. Many have been adapted from earlier approaches to the specific needs of the donor or international NGO (INGO), and there has been a tendency towards toolkits. There are also a huge number of courses on conflict analysis. A key source by FEWER et al. (2004) summarises 15 conflict analysis tools, finding that most are designed for the development field (10 of the 15), with some for humanitarian assistance (4), peacebuilding (3) and foreign policy (2). Donors tend to use country-level strategic approaches and international and local implementing agencies use more detailed, context-specific analysis (Leonhardt, 2003). Some approaches are designed to be participatory at the local level (e.g. the 1999 Do No Harm approach), whereas others have more formal methods to examine the wider conflict content analysis (e.g. 2012 USAID tool; 2002 DFID tool). Some are more relevant for INGOs (e.g. the 2015 World Vision approach) and others for bilateral donors (e.g. USAID 2012 tool).

The tools have largely converged on a set of common concepts, a menu of questions to guide research and easy-to-use methodologies. These are designed to be illustrative and adapted according to the context of the country, the commissioning agent and the purpose of the study. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (2012) compares six of the conflict analysis tools to give a sense of the variety available, summarising their purpose, potential users, assumptions, methodology and effort and evaluation application (see table below).

Summary of six conflict analysis tools

Purpose Potential users Assumptions Methodology and effort Evaluation application
Making Sense of Turbulent Contexts: Analysis Tools for Humanitarian Actors (MSTC) – World Vision, 2015
Aims to improve ability to analyse dynamics of conflicts to impact programme and project planning and advocacy in emergency situations. NGO emergency response, development and advocacy staff. Focus on chronic political instability, not just violent conflict.Sees conflict as cyclical with periods of peace followed by conflict. Collection of tools to analyse actors, symptoms and political economy of conflict, generate future scenarios and assess strategic and operational implications. Effort depends on scope of data collection and workshop. Focuses on macro level; how conflict will affect programme in future. Flexible and adaptable to specific contexts. Can be used to analyse clusters of countries.
Conflict Assessment Framework – USAID, 2012 (version 2.0)
Country and programme strategic planning to identify and prioritise causes of conflict based on understanding of impact. Donor desk officers, implementing partners, mission staff, embassy staff, other government officials. Pulls together best research on causes, level and nature of conflict to identify windows of opportunity. Combination of desk study, in-country visits, workshops and interviews. Includes significant staff time: about 2 months. Relevant to conflict sensitivity, prevention and peacebuilding. Quality may vary depending on robustness of methodology used to gather data.
Aid for Peace – Paffenholz and Reychler, 2007
Assesses peace and conflict relevance, risks and effects of development and humanitarian projects or programmes. Development and foreign ministry officials. Examines both conflict and peace factors. Framework for analysis of peacebuilding deficiencies and needs, conflict risks and effects of intervention on conflict. Desk study/survey of other interventions; field mission with 3–5 days training and workshop. Potentially time-consuming and costly, depending on time for baseline study and mapping and number of field visits and workshops. Addresses both conflict sensitivity and peace and conflict programming. Provides specific guidance on integrating peace and conflict lens into evaluation.
Manual for Conflict Analysis– Sida, 2006
Country/programme/ project planning to improve effectiveness of development cooperation and humanitarian assistance in areas affected by violent conflict. Development agency staff, implementing partners. Conflicts driven by structural instability, struggle for power and influence, and mutual fear and insecurity. Desk study, consultations and workshop to consider programme implications. Local ownership of analysis important. 6-12 weeks, depending on scope of desk study. Focus on different levels of programming. Relevant both for conflict sensitivity and planning at country and sector levels.
Conflict-related Development Analysis – UNDP, 2003
Conflict-related programme planning and review aimed at understanding links between development and conflict, increasing positive impact of development efforts. Development agency staff and donors working in situations prone to and affected by conflict. Conflict caused by combination of security, political, economic and social causes and actor interests. Development can cause violence. Data collection and analysis followed by workshop or expert study to analyse current responses and suggest ways forward. Effort depends on method for data collection. Methodology derives from the 2002 DFID tool. Development-focused and linked to programming. Useful at country or sector level, less at micro level. Quality of analysis depends on rigour of data collection.
Conflict and Policy Assessment Framework – Goor and Verstegen, 2000 (Clingendael Institute)
Aims to link early warning to policy planning and implementation. Donor and embassy staff involved with foreign policy and development issues. Focus on indicators of internal conflict and state failure. Uses Fund for Peace’s measures for sustainable security as goal. External research and analysis to track indicators and identify problem areas and responses for workshop discussion. Effort depends on size of workshops, and consultant involvement. Not programme-specific, but focuses on broad policy or programme development. Facilitates clarity on developments and trends, not causes.

Source: Adapted from OECD (2012: 79).

  • CDA Collaborative. (2013). Reflecting on peace practice: Participant training manual. Cambridge, MA: CDA Collaborative Learning Projects.
  • FEWER (Forum for Early Warning and Early Response), International Alert & Saferworld. (2004). Integrating conflict sensitivity into sectoral approaches. In Resource pack on conflict-sensitive approaches (Chapter 4). London: FEWER, International Alert and Saferworld.
  • Leonhardt, M. (2003). Towards a unified methodology: Reframing PCIA. In A. Austin, M. Fischer & O. Wils (eds.) Berghof Handbook Dialogue Series: Vol. 1. Peace and conflict impact assessment: Critical views on theory and practice. Berlin: Berghof Foundation.
  • OECD. (2012). Conflict analysis and its use in evaluation. In Evaluating peacebuilding activities in settings of conflict and fragility: Improving learning for results Paris: OECD.