On 12 March 2015, the Department of Criminology hosted the second annual Security, Conflict and International Development (SCID) Symposium – Researching and Working in Conflict-Affected Environments.
Presenters included 11 members of the SCID Panel of Experts, including professors, retired senior police chiefs and military officers, government advisers, international human rights and humanitarian law barristers, senior officials in the UN system and other leading international experts in the field of conflict resolution and recovery.
The broad range of papers addressed issues concerning the challenges of conducting research and working in conflict-affected environments, and ways in which to improve practice; monitoring and evaluation of programmes; recruitment and deployment of staff; preparing police peacekeepers; managing multi-cultural teams and the importance of inter-cultural effectiveness; and ways in which to gather and utilise data. Specific subjects included the practical challenges of conducting police research in Kano (Nigeria); Security Sector Reform and development of the National Security and Stabilization Plan (NSSP) in Somalia; the relationship between food security and conflict in Mozambique, Burundi and elsewhere; election monitoring in Ukraine; the use of evidence in the monitoring and evaluation of programmes in Helmand (Afghanistan), Lebanon, Syria and Pakistan; and the use of biometrics and population registration in the Balkans.
Alongside Panel members, SCID student and film director, Katharina von Schroeder, introduced the screening of her award-winning feature-length documentary film We Were Rebels, which follows the life of a former child soldier in South Sudan. Additionally, the SCID course developer and tutor, Eleanor Gordon, gave a presentation on bridging the gap between the worlds of academia and practice, with a view to better understanding and thus responding to the challenges of conflict and peacebuilding – tying into the theme of the Symposium and overarching aim of the SCID Course and the establishment of the Panel of Experts.
Matthew Waterfield opened the Symposium with a presentation on the use of evidence in the monitoring and evaluation of programmes in fragile and conflict-affected countries. This presentation underlined the importance, and challenges in the way, of gathering and using evidence in these environments and, in this context, suggested many innovative methods for the collection and use of evidence. Richard Byrne’s presentation considered the relationship between food security and conflict, before explaining the importance of military actors being aware of this relationship if stabilisation efforts are to be successful. This presentation then detailed ways in which to build this awareness and gather and share the requisite data. The presentations by Mathew Waterfield, Richard Byrne and others indicated the benefit that closer working relationships between academics and practitioners can have on peacebuilding efforts, not least in terms of the importance of gathering and analysing data in order to inform practice and thus improve performance and results.
Alex Finnen’s presentation addressed the challenges of working as well as researching in conflict-affected environments, the former with particular regard to technological and legislative developments in population control, such as free movement across boundaries. Likewise, Peter Reed’s presentation addressed the challenges of working in these environments, in the context of post-conflict Security Sector Reform (SSR), and ways in which these challenges can be best addressed, not least by developing strategic approaches and investing in leadership. Maureen Poole’s presentation also highlighted the challenges of working in these environments, with a specific focus on policing in Ukraine during 2014, with the compressed election preparation timeframe, unresolved conflict, large numbers of internationally displaced persons (IDPs), and high levels of crime and disorder. By drawing attention to challenges faced in these environments, these presentations reinforced the lessons that can be usefully learnt and applied to similar contexts.
There were many principles and lessons learned that were highlighted in the papers presented, which resonated across various fields of practice and research. The presentations of Anna Shevchenko and Alex Batesmith, in particular, highlighted the need for practitioners (and researchers) to be attentive to cultural dynamics; to recognise and respond to different cultural attitudes and needs; and to be culturally effective by developing and practicing good listening skills, and having humility and respect for others. Chris Sharwood-Smith and Douglas Brand highlighted the importance of being well prepared and trained in advance of deployment, and of identifying the right people to be deployed to the right places at the right time. This would be as applicable to those engaged in research as well as practice, of course.
Presentations by Douglas Brand, Chris Sharwood-Smith, Alex Batesmith and others demonstrated the role that employers have in contributing to effective peacebuilding by selecting, training and supporting people and in evaluating their performance. These principles can be applied to those engaged in conflict-affected environments beyond the police peacekeeper, lawyer and those working in aid and development – the focus of the presentations by Chris Sharwood-Smith, Alex Batesmith and Douglas Brand, respectively. These and other presentations also highlighted the importance of focussing on competencies beyond technical ability and knowledge when determining who should be recruited or engaged in a particular project. Oftentimes, compassion, empathy, motivation and commitment to making a positive contribution are overlooked during the recruitment and selection processes in favour of ascertaining the technical skills and prior experience someone may have, as highlighted in Douglas Brand’s presentation. As Alex Batesmith’s presentation suggested, it is skills such as the ability to listen, show humility and respect towards others, know oneself and the environment in which one works, and cultivate and demonstrate commitment to contributing to the host country that will determine project success. Related to this, Anna Schevchenko’s presentation also clearly highlighted the need to recognise and respond to the different skills and styles of different members of a team when allocating tasks, to avoid conflict and facilitate programme success.
Throughout the day it was clear that a number of lessons learned in various fields can be usefully shared between practitioners engaged in these fields. For instance the advice to develop cultural effectiveness of lawyers in Alex Batesmith’s presentation would seem equally useful to those working in the armed forces in peace operations or those employed as police peacekeepers. Likewise, those engaged in research in these environments can clearly benefit from some of the lessons learned by practitioners and highlighted in the presentations mentioned above, including the need to consider how to work in complex, multi-cultural, insecure and volatile environments.
Similarly, there are lessons that could be usefully shared with practitioners by those engaged in the field of research in conflict-affected environments, which were highlighted in the presentations by Alice Hills, on police research in conflict-affected environments, notably Kano in Nigeria; Tony Welch on the challenges of conducting research in conflict-affected environments, with a focus on SSR research; and Eleanor Gordon. These lessons include the importance of determining what analytical tools to utilise and what information/literature to draw upon (and the importance of being aware of and reflecting upon one’s choices and how it will impact the research); reflecting upon the impact of the research process and output on the research participants and research environment; being aware of and addressing the power dynamics between researcher and research participant; and being familiar with the impact on research of the choice in gatekeepers, locations chosen for research, use of language, issues addressed/questions asked, and so on.
Aside from common guiding principles and lessons that can be usefully shared between practitioners and researchers working in conflict-affected environments, lessons can be learned from others beyond the parameters of those directly engaged in or studying/researching building security and justice after conflict. Katharina von Schroeder’s film and presentation highlighted the need to spend a significant amount of time to build trust and rapport. Her presentation also resonated with the practical challenges of conducting research, particularly without any institutional support, that were highlighted by Alice Hills often constituting the most instrumental challenges to a research project: where to live while in a conflict-affected environment; how to get around; where to find an interpreter; and what to do in the event of a security incident or unforeseen development, for example. The film demonstrated how complex phenomena, such as conflict or peace processes, can be shown through an in-depth study of a single person or place and, crucially, it captured the complexity and emotional content that can sometimes be missing in research or project outputs. Similarly, concepts, theories and approaches developed in other disciples may also add value to those engaged in conflict resolution or peacebuilding. For example, the way in which theories and strategies developed by the military can be applied in management, and vice versa, and further applied to others working in volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) environments, such as conflict-affected environments, was also detailed by Peter Reed.
In sum, there were common threads and recommendations running throughout the presentations, and principles highlighted in various presentations that are clearly applicable to all those working in any capacity in conflict-affected environments, including those engaged in research. These included the need to be responsive to ever-changing dynamics in post-conflict environments and be flexible with plans; to ensure actions are context-specific as well as informed by applicable lessons from elsewhere; to be aware of security risks (to self and those with whom we work or engage with) and take necessary action to minimise those risks; to avoid underestimating the amount of planning and preparation required; to take care when recruiting people (whether as practitioners or part of a research project); to show respect towards others and humility; to take time in the field (to build trust and rapport); and to listen, learn and be self-aware.
The event was an enormous success and gave SCID students, staff and Panel members the opportunity to discuss the challenges of conducting research and working in conflict-affected environments, and ways in which those challenges can be best met. The papers presented were excellent and the day couldn’t have been drawn to a close any better than with the screening of Katharina’s outstanding film and her presentation of the way in which she overcame the challenges of researching and working in South Sudan over the two-and-a-half year period in which the film was made. The opportunity to meet students and Panel members in person, rather than virtually, was also invaluable – and the social events were very enjoyable.
Thank you to everyone who participated in the Symposium and made it such a success. Please don’t hesitate to post further comments, questions and feedback to this Blog, including preferences for the theme for next year’s Symposium.
Papers from the Symposium will be shortly published in the Annual SCID Reader, which will be provided to all SCID students and uploaded to this Blog. Recordings of each presentation will also be uploaded to this Blog as well as linked to from the Course platforms (iPad and Blackboard). This will enable those who were unable to attend to watch the presentations and allow all of us to continue the discussions on how best to respond to the challenges of conducting research and working in conflict affected environments and, ultimately, how best to understand and respond to the challenges of conflict.
Best wishes, Eleanor