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Defining the Challenges of Coordination

The capacity of technologies to gather, sort, and manage data has undergone rapid advances. Yet coordination among government and nongovernment actors in peacebuilding remains a challenge, largely because of the human factors involved in data sharing. Once shared, data can no longer be controlled, and so the problem is not technical but a matter of trust. That trust is based on the capacity to negotiate shared goals, processes, and values for cooperation. The first session of the workshop discussed the ethical, cultural, and social obstacles faced by peacebuilding organizations in adopting technologies to break down the information silos in which they work.

A CLASH OF CULTURES

Tremendous progress has been achieved over the past 20 years in improving the sharing of information among organizations involved in peacebuilding, said Ambassador Robert Loftis, Interagency Professional in Residence at USIP. But even after a decade of experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more than two decades of peacebuilding activities since the fall of the Berlin Wall, challenges of coordination are still prominent.

A major contributor to these challenges, Loftis explained, is that peacebuilding is marked by a clash of cultures. Military, civilian government, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) do not have the same immediate



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2 Defining the Challenges of Coordination T he capacity of technologies to gather, sort, and manage data has undergone rapid advances. Yet coordination among government and nongovernment actors in peacebuilding remains a challenge, largely because of the human factors involved in data sharing. Once shared, data can no longer be controlled, and so the problem is not technical but a matter of trust. That trust is based on the capacity to negotiate shared goals, processes, and values for cooperation. The first session of the workshop discussed the ethical, cultural, and social obstacles faced by peacebuilding organizations in adopting technologies to break down the information silos in which they work. A CLASH OF CULTURES Tremendous progress has been achieved over the past 20 years in improving the sharing of information among organizations involved in peacebuilding, said Ambassador Robert Loftis, Interagency Professional in Residence at USIP. But even after a decade of experience in Iraq and Afghani- stan, and more than two decades of peacebuilding activities since the fall of the Berlin Wall, challenges of coordination are still prominent. A major contributor to these challenges, Loftis explained, is that peace- building is marked by a clash of cultures. Military, civilian government, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) do not have the same immediate 7

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8 DATA SHARING TO IMPROVE COORDINATION IN PEACEBUILDING goals and timelines. In many cases, they do not even speak the same language. For example, to the military, "coordination" means the ability to direct; to civilian organizations, it means consultation and consensus; and to NGOs, it means avoid contradictory activities or--more positively--sharing informa- tion. These differences can be strength, in that different organizations bring different perspectives to a problem, but unity of effort may be an elusive goal. Some of these challenges can be addressed by institutionalizing and formalizing relationships, Loftis said. For example, a mechanism such as the Civilian Military Relations Working Group in Nonpermissive Environments, which brings together a variety of organizations for discussions every few months, can provide a framework for cooperation. But such mechanisms are means to an end and not ends in themselves. They are typically built on personal relations that do not necessarily carry over as personnel change. Personal relations and trust must therefore be continually refreshed and renewed. A relationship that worked in one context is not guaranteed to work in another, even with the same individuals. And as great as the challenges are in a purely American context, they are multiplied many times over in multinational or multilateral environments. Data sharing can be useful in building relationships and trust, Loftis concluded. It can start on a small scale and gradually expand as trust and experience build. But assumptions and expectations about the use and distri- bution of data must be made explicit early, some data will be easier to share than others, systems have to evolve over time to be effective, and data sharing is no substitute for critical thinking and communication. DATA SHARING IN CONTEXT To understand the challenges of information sharing, it needs to be seen in the context of the broader structure and experience of civilian-military relations and civilian management of humanitarian, development, and peacebuilding activities, said Randy Tift, senior policy advisor in the World Vision US International Programs Group. For NGOs, information sharing occurs along a spectrum of involvement, from information gathering and needs assessment to the use of information for the delivery of aid or ser- vices. As an example of the latter, Tift cited the earthquake in Haiti: NGOs responded to demands from the UN, the United States, and the host govern- ment for information and coordination, resulting in a much greater degree of donor coordination.

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DEFINING THE CHALLENGES OF COORDINATION 9 Tift focused on two areas: the security of NGO staff and the people they serve, and community acceptance of NGOs. He noted that information shar- ing can be a powerful determinant, for better or worse, of security. For that reason, as spelled out in World Vision's policies on information sharing and liaison arrangements, the organization actively seeks to sustain open and direct (or indirect) dialogue with militaries and other armed groups in all circumstances, always with the objective of protecting civilians and enhanc- ing mutual understanding of roles and mandates. World Vision also establishes a mechanism for liaison with military actors in situations where it shares operational space with such groups. Liaison may take place through a coalition of NGOs, established lines of communication maintained by the UN, or direct communication when appropriate. Liaisons need to be transparent to all stakeholders and maintain a clear distinction between armed actors and NGO workers. In humanitarian operating environments, World Vision and military or police personnel need to maintain a mutual understanding of objec- tives, roles, activities, and principles, said Tift. World Vision seeks to engage in ongoing dialogue with the military and police, with a view to promot- ing adherence to international humanitarian law and other human rights instruments and to increasing the military's understanding of the roles of humanitarian organizations. World Vision recognizes that in some cases military and international police actors are in a unique position to provide data about specific humani- tarian needs. In cases of extremely vulnerable populations for which data are lacking, World Vision and other organizations have sought out this informa- tion. However, the information has to be triangulated with that from other sources to confirm its reliability. The data have to appear, without reason- able doubt, to address a humanitarian imperative. Military or armed police contingents should not be able to gain legitimacy simply because they have a relationship with an international humanitarian organization. The same considerations apply to data flows in the opposite direction, Tift said. To maintain credibility with local organizations and individuals, NGOs cannot appear to be gathering intelligence for the US government or to be functioning as agents of government security operations. NGOs depend on being perceived as impartial, independent humanitarian organi- zations. Moreover, to be effective, it is critical that NGOs be viewed by host country leaders as trustworthy, above reproach, and committed to addressing underlying causes of poverty and injustice.

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10 DATA SHARING TO IMPROVE COORDINATION IN PEACEBUILDING Coordination with the US military or other armed actors, if performed on the basis of NGO independence and impartiality, does not necessarily compromise an NGO's acceptance by local communities, Tift said. Indeed, it may help to ensure the effective delivery of aid to victims of poverty and injustice in a complex emergency situation. Enabling NGOs to act indepen- dently, even when implementing programs funded by the US government, is not only necessary but makes the achievement of US strategic objectives much more likely. NGO independence does not bind NGOs operationally to security imperatives but rather strengthens US security by addressing root causes of insecurity, according to Tift. Humanitarian organizations can learn much from each other, Tift con- cluded. As part of this learning, commitment to better coordination would bring greater unity to NGO initiatives. COORDINATION IN PEACEBUILDING Even with coordination among organizations, peacebuilding can be effective or ineffective depending on the context and on how coordination is approached, explained Susanna Campbell, Visiting Scholar at the Saltzman Institute for War and Peace Studies at Columbia University. Peacebuilding is difficult, she said, and the determinants of peace--even the definition of peace--are not fully understood. Therefore, simply combin- ing the hypothesized elements of peace through coordination will not ensure success. Coordination needs to be aimed at specific problems that stand in the way of peace. Campbell described several ways in which coordination can lead to inef- fective peacebuilding. It can decrease flexibility and the capacity to adapt strategies and approaches, especially if organizations lose touch with the con- text in which they are working. It can focus attention on other international actors rather than peacebuilding problems that must be solved. Where data are not available on the effects of peacebuilding activities, coordination can lead to uninformed decisions. Coordination efforts can compete for funding with other activities, including those more directly focused on peacebuilding, and can overload organizations' already full agendas. However, Campbell continued, coordination also can contribute to effective peacebuilding. It can direct attention to peacebuilding efforts that emerge from the bottom up rather than from top-down directives, espe- cially to the extent that such efforts aim to solve immediate problems. It can serve as a forum for stakeholder dialogue and break down cultural barriers

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DEFINING THE CHALLENGES OF COORDINATION 11 between organizations. And coordination can allow organizations to work in a complementary fashion to solve the problems at hand. Campbell emphasized, as did Loftis, that coordination is a tool, not the end goal of effective peacebuilding. It therefore needs to be judged by intermediate measures such as the focus of coordination, who is involved, and what actions result. At the most basic level, coordination can prevent duplication of activities. At a more ambitious level, it can enable joint action. Assessments of the impact of coordination need to keep these different objectives in mind, and should also take stock of the effects of peacebuilding on the people who are the subject of those efforts. As one element of coordination, data sharing can prevent duplication and increase the participation of stakeholders who are not traditionally included. Data sharing also can support informed discussions by providing information about outcomes, thus enabling programs to evolve based on their impacts. In this way, organizations can see how a situation is changing and adjust their actions accordingly. DISCUSSION During the discussion period, the three speakers and other workshop participants explored the varied challenges to data sharing and coordination in peacebuilding. Tift reiterated that some forms of coordination can actu- ally lead to conflict, such as when they create a perception of alliance with a belligerent party. Some forms of data sharing or other kinds of collabora- tion with the military or other government agencies can be appropriate, Tift acknowledged, but not if they undermine humanitarian objectives. As an example, he cited a case in Afghanistan where World Vision was asked, as part of a US government grant, to retarget the beneficiaries of its aid to serve counterinsurgency objectives. World Vision refused to do so, as did several other NGOs, which led to a dialogue that ultimately changed the policy. Campbell observed that even when data sharing is beneficial, it can be difficult to do systematically. For example, NGOs are more effective if they share data among themselves, and they can do so through such means as the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). But once peacebuilding starts, OCHA tends to recede into the background, and no single organization is charged with collecting and disseminating informa- tion. Even when data are shared, she continued, the level of detail often is not sufficient to achieve effective coordination. Furthermore, data on impacts or outcomes are exceedingly scarce.

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12 DATA SHARING TO IMPROVE COORDINATION IN PEACEBUILDING To deal with these problems, Campbell suggested that much more analysis be done of the institutions that are the focus of change. Who are the key players, what needs to happen, and what systems need to change? Once this analysis has been done, incentives and motivations need to be created to foster change. Then the effectiveness of these interventions needs to be measured. "Was this the right approach? If not, what approach might work better?" Military culture is more amenable to evaluation than is the development community, said Campbell, but in either case representative stakeholder dialogue focused on outcomes can yield the information needed to adapt and learn. Tift identified another missing ingredient: effective policy dialogue among organizations, especially between NGOs and civilian agencies in the US government. He cited several cases in which policies with a major effect on NGOs were disseminated by US government agencies without consulta- tion with the groups most affected by those policies. Loftis pointed to some of the deeper problems with measuring impacts. Individuals and organizations want to have an impact and often interpret change as a direct consequence of their activities. However, they cannot know all the factors that came into play. In complex and quickly changing environ- ments, it can be very difficult to determine causality--that a particular action had a particular outcome. Establishing a track record over time can point toward effective action, but evaluation remains a difficult task. Kevin Brownawell, interagency professional in residence at USIP, observed that organizations often have different ideas of what data to collect. Even different agencies in the US government focus on different aspects of conflict situations and may request different kinds of information from the NGOs with which they work. Conflicts can be avoided by planning for data collection at the beginning. Gregor Bailar, retired chief information officer for Capital One Financial Corporation, commented on the similarities between the problems discussed in the workshop and the challenges facing large and innovative companies. They, too, encounter problems caused by rigid strategies, lack of coordina- tion, and false confidence in strategic planning, and they, too, benefit from stakeholder dialogue, bottom-up coordination, and organizational integra- tion. Agile approaches to planning and problem solving work well in both the private and public sectors, he said. Campbell noted that all organizations have difficulty with behavior change, in part because they learn through re-established routines-- "Organizations learn what they already know." Therefore, one way to change

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DEFINING THE CHALLENGES OF COORDINATION 13 what institutions learn is to change what they know. If the military wants to engage in peacebuilding, it needs to bring in people who are familiar with peacebuilding activities and make peacebuilding a priority in the military culture. In this way organizations can adapt based on what they learn, though this typically works best in smaller and more agile organizations. In larger organizations, change can occur in pockets of the organization that encour- age adaptation and learning. Finally, Sheldon Himelfarb, director of the Center of Innovation for Science, Technology, and Peacebuilding at USIP, asked about the benefits of transparency. In the Facebook era, an emerging paradigm may be to default to the release of information so it can be used by others. Campbell responded that transparency would be "a huge step forward" but does not necessarily address the full range of problems. Loftis also cited the problem of too much information. Part of the chal- lenge, he said, is to filter meaningful from meaningless information and to synthesize information in ways that are useful.

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