2. What to do: Response options

Urgency and access may limit the amount of conflict analysis that can be undertaken in the first days of a response but a minimal analysis is still possible. It is important to ensure as early as possible that some staff have prior knowledge of the conflict context which can be used without the immediate need for additional field assessments. So we use the term ‘good enough’ conflict analysis to recognise that we cannot do as much conflict analysis as we may like. With slow onset emergencies we can see the problem looming, and have opportunity to undertake more detailed conflict analysis as the situation unravels, prior to responding, in the preparedness phase.

What is ‘good enough’ on day 1 will be different from what is ‘good enough’ on day 10, and likewise this will be different from what is ‘good enough’ on day 20. What we can say is we expect the conflict analysis to progressively deepen over time during the first phase of response. During the later phases we would anticipate that ‘good enough’ is a much higher standard, and would involve the application of a specific conflict analysis tool, such as Do No Harm.

The following is a four phase process that can be used for a good enough approach in rapid onset crises.

2.1.1 First Phase: Do No Harm basic

Recommended Actions Minimum Questions
Rapidly assess conflict in operating area •       What are the tensions and who are they between?

•       Why are there tensions?

•       Where precisely in relation to CARE’s work, and

•       What triggers the violence?

Check partner for conflict risk •       Have we assessed our partners as being neutral or aligned in the conflict?
Ensure partner has signed and understands code of conduct? •       Are they aware of its content and meaning, and how NGO behaviour can fuel conflict?

•       Are all staff and partners aware of how to safely and confidentially raise concerns about CARE’s programming internally?

Check preliminary beneficiary criteria for conflict risk •       Will helping our beneficiaries fuel the tensions identified?

•       Will it expose women/girls to additional risk?

Brainstorm how CARE’s programme can contribute to cohesion in operating area •       Can we achieve our goal and also strengthen links between the people that the crisis is dividing right now?

2.1.2 Phase 2: Partners, Beneficiaries and Diversion

Recommended Actions Minimum Questions
Review tensions in area and deepen conflict analysis •       Is it getting better, worse or staying the same?

•       Are the triggers or causes linked to aid?

Check to see how partners and staff are viewed by beneficiary population •       Are the partners perceived as neutral, impartial and driven by the humanitarian imperative by the local population?

•       Can we verify if they are abiding by code of conduct?

Check who is selecting beneficiaries to ensure the body is representative and legitimate •       Does the body represent the diversity of the local population and target population?

•       Is it respected and viewed as transparent?

Check that the selection criteria and process is sensitive to the conflict •       Have the criteria favoured one group more than another, and does this overlap with conflict divisions?

•       Can non-beneficiaries complain?

Check the distribution method has been assessed for conflict and GBV risks? •       Will the distribution method expose beneficiaries especially women to risk of attack, robbery, discrimination or abuse?
Brainstorm ways to prevent aid diversion, document. •       How might our aid end up in the control of armed groups?

•       How can we limit this risk?

Link and share information with peer agencies •       Are we engaging in protection cluster/ host community working groups?

2.1.3 Phase 3: Strengthening monitoring systems

Recommended Actions Minimum Questions
Review tensions in area based on feedback, staff views and public information to deepen conflict analysis •       Is it getting better, worse or staying the same?

•       Are the triggers or causes linked to aid?

·      What are the best, worst and most likely scenarios for the future of the conflict? What does each scenario depend on?

Ensure feedback and  response system is in place to help monitor tensions •       Are both beneficiaries and non-beneficiaries complaining?

•       Are CARE and partner staff accessing safe spaces to discuss concerns?

•       Who is responsible for gathering this information and discussing changes in programming?

•       How are changes being communicated back to the local population

Brainstorm and review all other ways that CARE’s programming could be causing harm? •       Is aid being diverted?

•       Are people/institutions or customs that promote peace being undermined or ignored?

•       Are local livelihoods being affected by our programming?

Does our programming reinforce the military position/objectives of a group (for example by encouraging people to move away from an area)

Brainstorm options for achieving goals through alternative means if negative impacts apparent •       Can we change our partner selection, beneficiary criteria, distribution method, geographic focus, or aid material?
Ensure protection analysis been conducted that integrates gender and conflict dynamics •       Are women and men, girls and boys facing different risks?

•       Is CARE’s support sensitive to these risks?

2.1.4 Phase 4 – Evaluation

Recommended Actions Minimum Questions
Review programming against conflict sensitivity benchmarks:

•       Context

•       Programming impacts

•       Monitoring process

•      Adaptation/Sensitivity

•       Is the conflict situation deteriorating or improving?

•       How have changes in the context affected CARE’s programming?

•       How has CAREs work had a positive or negative impact on tension and cohesion in the area.

•       How often are CARE and partner staff meeting to discuss complaints and unexpected negative effects of CARE’s work?

•       Is the feedback system working well?

•       Is CARE’s communication strategy ensuring that CARE provides all relevant information in a way which is accessible to beneficiaries and local communities?

•       What programming changes have been made in response to complaints? Has that eased tensions?

•       What further changes could be made to improve relations and reduce violence and tension in the programming area?

Deliver training to address gaps in partner and CARE staff knowledge •       Are there gaps in the areas of IHL, gender, conflict sensitivity and accountability?

2.2.1 Conflict Analysis

Where more time and access permit it, a deeper analysis can be undertaken that draws from multiple perspectives and voices. The process for a conflict analysis should consider:

  • Is analysis done in a participatory way, involving a range of staff, beneficiaries and other key stakeholders (different local groups, other local and international NGOs, academics, etc.)?
  • Is analysis complex and comprehensive? Does it reflect a variety of viewpoints-local, national, regional and international perspectives? Does it use a variety of different tools and information sources?

A good analysis will use a variety of tools to understand different aspects of conflict and its complexity. See below suggested questions for a more detailed conflict analysis, and to Annex 6.4 How to Guide to Conflict Sensitivity. 

2.2.2 Suggested questions for a detailed conflict analysis:


  • What is the history of the conflict?
  • What is the wider political, economic, social and cultural context?
  • What are the key conflict issues?
  • Where are the conflict-affected/prone areas geographically located?


  • What are the root and proximate causes of conflict? Root causes are the real issues at the centre of the conflict (whether violent or latent) that need to be resolved. Proximate causes are factors that increase the possibility of conflict becoming violent or further escalating, such as the availability of small arms or financial resources to buy them, or the support of scattered groups and external supporters.
  • What are the structural causes of conflict? Structural causes are built into the policies, structures and fabric of society, and may help create the preconditions for violence. For example, discriminatory policy, inequitable resource allocation, and lack of opportunity for political participation and representation in government.
  • What are the triggers of conflict? Triggers are specific acts or events (or anticipation of them) that raise tension and set off or escalate violence. For example, assassination or imprisonment of a key figure, sudden key commodity price increases, electoral periods and culturally significant dates.
  • What emerging trends are contributing to conflict? For example, radicalisation of conflict parties, development of a war economy, discovery of new natural resources or mass migration.
  • What factors currently contribute to peace? For example, communication channels between conflict parties, shared cultural events/practices or local peace initiatives.


  • Who are the main actors in the conflict? How are they interlinked? Which are opposed and which are allied or have common cause?
  • What are their main interests, goals, positions, capacities and relationships? Interests refers to their underlying motivations; goals refers to the strategies they use to achieve those interest; positions refers to the solutions the actors present on key issues; capacities refers to the actors’ potential to affect the conflict positively or negatively and could include a power analysis; and relationships refers to the interactions between different actors and their perceptions of those interactions.
  • What actors support capacities for peace? (these could be institutions, groups or individuals)
  • What actors are or might become spoilers who could undermine a peace process?


  • What stage is the conflict at? What are the past and current conflict trends? How has violence changed over time? At what times does it escalate/de-escalate and why?
  • What are the windows of opportunity? Are these being utilised?

What are the best, worst and most likely scenarios for the future of the conflict based on the above information? What does each scenario depend on? This is essential to plan alternative responses.

2.2.3 Understanding the link between the intervention and the conflict

In addition to analysing the conflict itself, it is critical to analyse the link between the conflict and the planned emergency response intervention, and to incorporate this analysis in programme planning.

It is crucial to consider all different aspects of the intervention and to determine what impact response activities may have on conflict dynamics, including choice of location, sectoral focus, identification of beneficiaries, selection of local partners, procurement procedures, distribution patterns, security arrangements, financial inputs and other resources, staffing profile, timings, processes of consultation, relationships with local authorities or other powerful groups, communications, and advocacy.

Reflection on the nature of the intervention should take place at all stages of the project cycle. Key questions to answer are: to/by whom, where, what, how and when support will be provided.

2.2.4 Key questions to ask about the intervention: To/by whom, where, what and when?

To/by whom

  • How does the selection of beneficiaries relate to divisions existing within a community/country?  Are processes to assess needs and select beneficiaries transparent and well publicised within the wider community? Is the community involved in this selection?
  • Are project staff actually (or perceived to be) neutral or party to the conflict?
  • Do partner agencies (local or international) have a role (real or perceived) in the conflict? What are their relationships with other actors? How are they perceived by the beneficiary community?


  • What is the pattern/status of land ownership in the response area? Are land titles disputed?
  • Does the geographical boundary of the response coincide with lines of division in conflict, with specific ethnic, economic or political groupings?
  • Will access to this area have to be negotiated? What opportunities will initial contacts provide for setting ground rules? Will negotiations provide legitimacy to certain actors?
  • Does the location of our offices, beneficiaries or construction/service/distribution sites convey messages about stronger relations with one group or another?


  • What aid resources are being introduced to the context? This might include financial resources, material programme inputs, local and international staffing, office/transport infrastructure, information, and access.
  • Could aid resources be diverted, stolen or otherwise enmeshed in a war economy? Could beneficiary groups be manipulated to ensure benefit from these resources?


  •  What time-bound conflict triggers exist alongside the intervention? Are annual cycles of offensive linked to seasonal change, political/electoral processes, key dates, etc.
  • How does the timeline of the intervention relate to windows of opportunity or vulnerabilities?

When are distributions planned? The season, day or even time of day can all affect vulnerability to violence.

At this stage, use of a tool such as Do No Harm is recommended. Expertise from within and outside CARE can be employed to assist with this.

Once used a risk register can be created with conflict flashpoints highlighted, indicators identified to monitor how the project and context are interacting, and thresholds set for action.

Key to a conflict sensitive and accountable approach is strong communications, feedback and flexibility. Where tensions are identified it is incumbent on CARE to act swiftly and make clear the changes that are being made. Key processes for action include:

  • Establish responsibility for monitoring the context, considering feedback from beneficiaries and those not-targeted by the project, and reviewing programming. Positions could include the M&E advisor, the accountability lead, the security coordinator, and protection advisors.
  • Establish a group to work together regularly to review the context and consider options and opportunities for adapting programming to the context.
  • Ensure a decision maker is appointed to drive through changes
  • Expect, acknowledge and reward flexibility and change
  • Document the changes for the purpose of accountability and learning

After six months or a relevant period the programme portfolio should be reviewed to check whether:

o    the key steps were followed,

o    whether processes were established and

o    What changes were made in light of shifts in the context.

In 2004, CARE Burundi commissioned research on the interaction of the food aid programme with local power dynamics and social networks (Kornfield, 2005). They were concerned that distributing food aid to only part of the population could have unintended negative impacts in communities already affected by conflict, still experiencing high levels of tension and trauma, where socio-cultural norms had broken down resulting in high levels of corruption, and where recurrence of violence was likely. Unequal power dynamics were an underlying cause of conflict within Burundi and thus a crucial aspect to be understood in ensuring conflict sensitivity.

The studies showed that the way in which food aid was delivered did have negative impacts on both individuals and communities. The food aid system was manipulated so that aid did not always reach those most in need and so that it reinforced the positions of those in power. Some aid was diverted to those connected with powerful people, while those in positions of power sometimes used people’s desperate needs for food aid to exploit them economically (through bribes) or sexually. The studies also showed how the ways in which food aid was used by beneficiaries-particularly how it was shared-affected social cohesion in a community. The studies suggested ways in which activities could be modified to reduce these impacts, such as clearer criteria to identify the most vulnerable people, measures to ensure that aid reached its intended beneficiaries, training for CARE staff in best practice during distributions, and improved coordination with WFP and other NGOs.

The studies into how a programme interacts with community dynamics in a conflict situation led to a ‘mindset change’ in CARE Burundi with widespread recognition that there could be unintended conflict-supporting impacts in their work but that they could act to minimise these impacts. It also made clear that interventions must be informed by a sound understanding of local power relations and conflict dynamics. This is a key step towards mainstreaming ‘conflict sensitivity’. This recognition led them to make changes to the Food Aid Programme in an attempt to minimise negative impacts. CARE Burundi also used the findings to advocate for changed practices of WFP.