Close coordination of conflict resolution efforts may indeed be "as difficult as herding cats."[1] However, intervention coordination can take many forms and still be effective. Information sharing and joint analysis are powerful forms of coordination, as are shared planning processes and resource sharing. In all its forms, intervention coordination requires effort. In some contexts, intervention coordination is undesirable or impossible. But, prudent intervention coordination can strengthen peace processes.

Coordinating conflict resolution interventions is a cutting-edge area of innovative activity. This module provides a snapshot of the state of the field now. New practical initiatives to coordinate peacebuilders will no doubt emerge as part of future peace processes. Such future initiatives should be examined to further the state of the art in coordinating conflict resolution interventions.

What is Intervention Coordination?

Intervention coordination is any effort to conduct pieces of a peace process for maximum joint impact. When conflict resolution professionals engage in a peace process, they are intervening. There are many interventions by international and local governmental and non-governmental organizations in every peace process. When these professionals seek to inform their own and others' interventions so that they build a stronger overall peace process together, that is intervention coordination. This admittedly broad definition allows for a range from the loosest to the closest forms of coordination and includes some activities that might be labeled cooperation or collaboration.

Intervention coordination between separate organizations is usually voluntary.[2] Peacemakers choose to coordinate with each other in order to support their shared goal of resolving a particular conflict. In some circumstances, coordination is mandated, such as within the UN system where the Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has an explicit mandate to coordinate international efforts to meet humanitarian needs.[3] In other circumstances, diverse groups come together to share information, share resources, jointly analyze progress, strategize next steps, and even develop and implement joint programs together. Although intervention coordination takes time and money, conflict resolution professionals may choose to coordinate because coordinated responses are most effective over the long term in progressing towards a shared goal of conflict resolution.

Interventions can relate to each other either sequentially or contemporaneously.[4] Sometimes intervention coordination involves sequential interventions. For example, after official mediators help the parties reach a formal political agreement, the official mediators may then turn to non-governmental organizations to assist with grassroots implementation of the agreement. The official mediators and the non-governmental organizations would coordinate with each other to orchestrate an effective hand off of some of the support appropriate for agreement implementation.

In other circumstances, conflict resolution professionals will coordinate contemporaneous interventions. For example, a group supporting and expanding a youth center in a conflict zone and a group supporting refugee return to that zone might find that their common goals are best served by sharing information with each other about returnees' interest in and use of the youth center. These examples illustrate that coordination of both sequential or simultaneous interventions can strengthen peace processes.

Intervention coordination can strengthen the work of the most diverse group of interveners. For example, IGOs (inter-governmental organizations), NGOs (nongovernmental organizations), and the military must know enough about each other to communicate effectively.[5] Groups that address the structural, political, and social aspects of conflict find that their work combines to build toward a shared goal.[6] Development and peacebuilding initiatives are integrally related in post-conflict zones.[7] And interveners working on rebuilding relationships may find they rely on progress with political-level substantive issues and the opening up of processes for inter-group communication before their work can have the impact they desire.[8]

In addition to aiding groups working on different aspects of a peace process, coordination can also be useful when interveners' initiatives are very closely related.[9] Thus, intervention coordination spans a range of activities that may be appropriate across the breadth of interactions surrounding peace processes.

Susan Allen Nan is Assistant Professor in the School of International Service at American University and serves on the Board of the Alliance for Conflict Transformation.