Amid international responses to conflict, disease or disaster, there is a growing call to pay more heed to local perspectives. Whether this means considering local customs including burial practices during an epidemic such as Ebola or the wellbeing of refugees, the underlying concept is that more inclusive and secure societies cannot be imposed from above.
At IDS, our interdisciplinary work recognises the interconnectedness of development research with major policy themes, such as security, health and governance, but at the same time takes those most affected as its starting point.
In 2018, IDS and partners won a US government award for a community-led peace-building process in Myanmar that uses a participatory approach developed by an IDS fellow. Thousands of people have benefited from the process and the award has attracted more funding for this type of programme.
The winning case study, led by Adapt Peacebuilding in partnership with IDS and Myanmar’s Relief Action Network for IDPs and Refugees (RANIR), was awarded the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Collaborate, Learn, Adapt Case Competition prize in October 2018.
The work focused on the northern region of Kachin, a site of heavy conflict between the Myanmar Army and the Kachin Independence Army. During 2013–16, IDS and Adapt Peacebuilding supported a consortium of local organisations to design and implement activities to strengthen local communities against the worst effects of the fighting, and to ensure that resolutions to the conflict incorporated their concerns.
‘Incredible’ achievements amid the war
Despite the unpredictable conditions and ongoing hostilities, more than 17,000 people have benefited from the activities, many of which are described as ‘notable firsts’ for such a situation. These included: life-saving mine risk education, efforts to combat the youth drug epidemic, initiatives to mitigate conflict between host communities and tens of thousands of internally displaced people, and activities to strengthen dialogue and accountability between local communities and peace process leaders.
According to Patrick Kum Jaa Lee, the local programme manager, ‘what made their efforts more remarkable was the conditions under which they achieved it, with no international access for international organisations and risky, unpredictable security conditions. To think of the firsts that they achieved under those conditions … it’s incredible.’
Ahead of the community-led curve
Underpinning the programme was a Systematic Action Research methodology developed by IDS Professor Danny Burns, designed specifically for locally led change in a highly complex environment. It was ideally suited for this type of situation, with competing stakeholders with diverse interests, locations and roles.
As well as developing the methodology, Danny Burns was the lead technical adviser. He co-developed the programme strategy and facilitated training and learning processes for RANIR, the main local implementing partner.
IDS and Adapt Peacebuilding have been pioneering systems and complexity approaches to peace-building and development for more than a decade. Their work pre-empted and now reflects a shift towards programmes that put local community leaders in charge of development priorities, rather than imposing externally pre-planned interventions.
On the strength of the award, USAID quadrupled its initial investment in the programme. The success has also attracted other donor interest, leading to a further $4.5 million for a community-based peace programme in Mali, funded by Humanity United.
IDS is also spreading the learning through its highly successful Participatory Action Research short course, now in its fifth year.