Systems Thinking in Conflict Resolution and Post-Conflict Situations

Led by Scott Gates
Jan 2004 – Dec 2006

​This research aims to investigate whether it might be possible to formulate a new 'road map' for development policy making and one which will improve management of the input-to-impact (output-to-purpose) chain of causality, especially in post-conflict environments.

 Systems thinking, which treats public services as complex adaptive systems, offers an alternative route to developing solutions and increasing system performance. Systems ideas have developed over the last half century, beginning with operational research, cybernetics and general systems theory. It is holistic and deals with complexity by increasing the level of abstraction, rather than seeking to divide the problem into manageable, but separate, elements.

The research will have particular significance in environments where DfID and partners are engaged in complex conflict mitigation or post-conflict reconstruction programmes. We propose to focus in particular on the cases of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia-Montenegro, East Timor, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Madagascar, Senegal, and the Sudan. We will also consider Northern Ireland. Lead Reseacher and grant applicant is Peter Reed at Bannock Consulting.

We will attempt to develop a metric or gauge for assessing the degree of complexity in a given arena. Systems dynamics may also be important in the transition from conflict to post-conflict situations. These are the high level interactions that operate over time to create situations and force strategy to 'emerge' regardless of planning. Case studies will be selected to provide insight into the issues of assessing complexity and the degree to which a systemic approach could possibly have generated a different policy approach. We will depend to a large degree on qualitative data (though supported by quantitative wherever possible or appropriate). In workshops with stakeholders during our field trips we will test the acceptability of the Outcome Mapping methodology that has been researched and published by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) in Canada.

Partners besides Bannock: Demos, a British policy consultancy that works with companies, NGOs, schools and professional bodies, and The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), which will not be financed by this project but will collaborate in the research.

Related pages