The Workshop on Harnessing Operational Systems Engineering to Support Peacebuilding explored how operational systems engineering might facilitate peacebuilding. This final chapter compiles participants’ observations into three broad categories:
- Takeaway messages for representatives of peacebuilding-focused NGOs and government organizations about the basic techniques of operational systems engineering and how these techniques may aid improved decision making.
- Takeaway messages for systems engineers about the world of peacebuilding and what types of peacebuilding problems might be amenable to systems approaches.
- Opportunities for collaboration and further work between the peacebuilding and systems engineering communities.
Speakers who made particular observations are identified in parentheses.
Operational systems engineering offers new and powerful ways of analyzing conflict situations and arriving at ways to address them. A prominent characteristic of engineering is to start from a goal and work backward to fig-
ure out how to achieve it, which suggests that the application of operational systems engineering to peacebuilding is a natural fit. (Dan Mote, University of Maryland)
Modeling is key to operational systems engineering, which requires identifying the actors in a situation and the dynamics among them. (Ricigliano) In its analysis of food security in South Sudan, for example, the breakout group cited individuals, food production systems, education, infrastructure services, security forces, tribes, NGOs, governments, and the international community as just some of the actors that need to be included in a systems map of the country. Figuring out ways to do this quickly and effectively may be a critical element of successful systems approaches to peacebuilding. (Reynolds)
Systems engineering also requires moving beyond the construction of maps of causal relationships to the development and elaboration of models that can be improved through data gathering and hypothesis testing. (Ricigliano) Adoption of systems methods will require that peacebuilding organizations become more process oriented in their peacebuilding activities. (Cole) System-based simulations could enable peacebuilders to test different intervention strategies and understand what the most likely outcomes for each strategy are. (Robinson)
Operational systems engineering can be applied to peacebuilding at multiple levels, from the project or field level to the level of overall policy or oversight—there is no “right” level at which to apply it. (Worthington) At the broadest possible level, for example, analysis of the entire peacebuilding community could reveal how to make the sum of peacebuilding efforts greater than the constituent parts, in that separate projects would reinforce each other and contribute to broader objectives. (Rouse) A global model could focus local decisions on high-leverage areas, resulting in change to the overall system. (Ricigliano) In this way, systems engineering could bring a paradigm shift to peacebuilding in which the objective of peacebuilding is long-term systemic change. (Ricigliano)
Developing models for peacebuilding and arriving at proposed actions requires a strong understanding of local conditions. Local knowledge, participation, and ownership are essential to understand the context of a conflict and to reduce violence. Ultimately, societies must heal themselves by coming together to enable a future that is not based on conflict. (Worthington)
Models need to start simple and add complexity, testing during development against historical examples and current realities. Greater complexity can then be added, with further testing of model validity. (Hamner) Component subsystems, such as the effects of poverty on the progression of conflict, can be identified and studied as necessary elements of larger models and as test beds for systems engineering in peacebuilding. (Morris)
Focusing on specific problems, such as the ones examined at the workshop, provides a way of exploring and elaborating on the application of operational systems engineering to peacebuilding while also yielding concrete recommendations for action. Field tests of specific applications of systems engineering could demonstrate the viability of an approach. (Shelby) Discussion of specific problems also provides an effective way to improve dialogue among parties.
The application of operational systems engineering to peacebuilding will have to accommodate the development of data in a context in which resources on the ground are focused on interventions, not data collection. It must be emphasized that in a conflict environment the need to protect data and sources is paramount. Identification and prioritization of data needs may constitute an important early use of models.
The development of models will require collaboration and iteration between peacebuilders and systems engineers. (Ricigliano) This process will reveal biases on both sides and compel participants to see systems as they really are rather than how they perceive them to be. (Himelfarb)
Participants at the workshop were particularly optimistic about the test cases. Each of the case studies examined could be extended and deepened. (Morris) In Kenya, a statistical history of election violence could be analyzed to mitigate future violence. In South Sudan, the analysis of data at different levels of societal organization could enhance food security. In Haiti, analysis of the reasons for homelessness could improve the lives of people living in tent camps. These efforts would offer fertile ground for testing the application of operational systems engineering to specific peacebuilding needs.
Successful applications of operational systems engineering to peacebuilding will require broader resourcing. Expansion of the breadth of NGOs represented at the workshop would provide additional perspectives and data for systems analyses while also bringing new perspectives to those organizations. (Morris) The collaboration among groups at the workshop could be
expanded through additional meetings or through the arrangement, by the NAE or USIP, of specific collaborative projects. (Cherry) Partnerships among organizations and the development of networks will be essential in a world of expanding capability but limited resources. (Worthington)
Capacity-building initiatives that are currently under way could foster greatly increased collaboration. For example, systems approaches could be an important component of the activities carried out under the recently announced USAID Higher Education Solutions Network, which is designed to establish institutional partnerships that will create and leverage a virtual network of experts who will help USAID solve specific global development challenges. (Reynolds) In addition, the development of a peace technology innovation laboratory at USIP (in planning at the time of the workshop) will make it possible to explore the application of operational systems engineering to the full range of peacebuilding activities. (Himelfarb)
Both peacebuilding and systems engineering must build capacity to synthesize the two. Peacebuilding programs and curricula in colleges and universities will need to be reshaped to provide students with the quantitative and modeling skills necessary in applying systems analyses to complex societal problems. (Reynolds)