Publications & reports
Participatory Action Research (PAR): A Tool for Transforming Conflict
A case study from south central Somalia
This latest publication, “Participatory Action Research (PAR), a tool for transforming conflict—a case study from south central Somalia”, documents the key challenges and opportunities for implementing PAR in the Somali context. It is based on the first phase of a three-year peace process within and between communities in Galgadud, Hiran and Middle Shabelle, facilitated by the Life & Peace Institute in partnership with the Zamzam Foundation.
“The communities are used to being told what to do and how to resolve their issues. On the contrary, in the PAR process, we ask them to tell us what they think their problem is and what their solution might be. They [the communities] are the driving force and know the solution.” – Zamzam Foundation staff, male, 27 August, 2015
This publication outlines the key processes, as well as challenges and opportunities, with implementing Participatory Action Research (PAR) in the Somali context – expanding upon the Life & Peace Institute’s (LPI) own internal research and scholarship on implementing PAR in different conflict contexts. The report
engages with current research on applying PAR to local peacebuilding efforts,
and offers new insights from original participant and staff interviews, and findings
of a summative evaluation of the first phase of LPI’s Conflict Transformation
and Inter-Clan Joint Resource Management (or CRM) project (implemented from
March 2012 to September 2015) in central Somalia.
The report, thus, aims to examine the processes of negotiation and adaptation
of applying the PAR methodology to the specific context of peacebuilding
programming across south central Somalia, to explore whether PAR programming
(as a methodological approach to dialogue and peacebuilding discourse)
has proven effective and contributed towards de-escalating local tensions (around
certain issues and in certain contexts), and if so, how it could be further adapted
and standardised (across programmes and disciplines).
To date, top-down institutional approaches to peacebuilding attempted by a
range of government and non-government actors have proven largely unsuccessful.
As such, the aim of this report is to examine the new neo-liberal push, by
international actors and domestic governments, for local agency and traditional
and hybrid governance structure, as the solution for positive societal change and
a way for building bridges for national and federal peacebuilding and national
dialogue processes. Thus, this report hopes to examine the applicability and
relevance of the PAR approach to local peacebuilding in the context of deeplydivided
communities, to ensure that PAR programming (ensconced in this new
development framework and its focus on local decision-making and agency) is
demonstrating positive effects on the levels of tensions and violence, is strongly
supported by the community, and is in line with values and conditions deemed
necessary by the community for longer-lasting peace (and doing “no harm”).
It is also hoped that this report will contribute to standardising the institutional
practice of PAR more broadly. Examining the impact of peacebuilding projects
is notoriously difficult, and the inherently open and flexible approach of PAR
programming makes this no easier. Yet, findings indicate that clear guidelines
and risk mitigation measures, as well as systematisation of dialogue procedures,
have served to standardise both programme responses and ensured a degree of
continuity in project implementation and outcome in the Somali context that
has enhanced local reception of PAR programming, as well as eased the task of
analysing and deciphering cross-cutting trends. LPI certainly encountered key
challenges applying the PAR approach to the local Somalia context, and in attempting
conflict transformation in ways that fundamentally deviate from traditional clan-based systems of conflict resolution, namely the prominence of elders in decision-making and the focus on quick-impact resolution.
Yet, findings indicate that participants were receptive to key elements (the focus
on incremental and longer-term dialogue processes, the unique staggered approach
to intra- and inter-clan conflict, and the focus on peace agreements). The
wider inclusion of women and young people still remains a significant challenge,
although significant strides were made (with all intra-clan dialogues comprising
at least 15 per cent women).The findings show that despite initial scepticism and
participant concerns about project gains (the lack of immediate tangible benefits
and concerns about more time required for seeing visible change or peace), the
majority of participants interviewed as part of an external evaluation1 (including
elders) indicated high trust in the incremental, sustained and inclusive dialogue
Community members strongly support PAR programming in the project
areas, noting positive changes in attitudes towards conflict resolution (its mechanisms
and operators). In participant estimations, this was due to 1) strong community
trust in the local implementing partners (trust established on pre-existing
knowledge of the institution, and its commitment, capacity and integrity), and 2)
the observed standardisation as well as flexibility in approach (its strong focus on
incremental sustained dialogue and agreement formation, but also openness to
holding dialogue quickly in the event of crisis situations if called for by the communities).
Participants also noted tangible effects of PAR programming. Following the
first phase of programming, participants who had reported high rates of segregation
between clans and low levels of clan cohesion, noted positive transformations
in the attitudes and behaviours towards intra- and inter-clan conflict (its
value and cost), as well as the strategies toward conflict prevention (preferring
more sustained agreements to resolving underlying issues rather than quick-impact
solutions). Participants reported an increase in informal engagement between
clans in the business and social spheres (indicating transferrable practices
of open dialogue into the informal sphere), as well as a commitment to embracing
nonviolent approaches to conflict (characterised by a willingness to negotiate
and engage in dialogue during periods of high tension before the conflict starts,
as well as promoting nonviolent approaches once conflict had begun, either
through the returning of seized property or the convening of peace committee
The decrease in the number of requested crisis interventions in the project areas
since the project inception – especially in the context of increasing local conflicts
and contestation across Somalia since the commencement of state formation
and federalisation agendas – also points to positive programmatic outcomes.
Yet, through a continuous project of risk analysis, validation and feedback systems,
LPI’s approach to PAR will continue to adapt to vastly changing dynamics
on the ground at the local level. National statebuilding processes have certainly
affected local activities, and the ongoing state formation and implementation of
the federal project are generating new forms of conflict in addition to aggravating
old clan rivalries.
Additional challenges for PAR programming more broadly come from fractured
authority structures (lack of community trust in public institutions, regional
administrations or the national ‘state’), and high levels of clan mistrust (resulting
from decades of protracted conflict and the implementation of a new federal
system). The importance here is to ensure that the process remains locally-driven
at every stage, that all stakeholders are involved, but that local conflict communities
take the lead in identifying points of conflicts, convening dialogues, and forming and implementing peace agreements.
1 “Summative Evaluation of CRM Phase 1”, Forcier Consulting, November 2015.