Since 2013 Danny Burns has been working with Stephen Gray and Josephine Roos on systemic approaches to peace in Northern Myanmar. The work is rooted in community perspectives on the issues that face local people in Kachin and Northern Shan State. We hope to expand this work to other States in due course.
Our rationale and objectives
The underpinning rationale for our work is that only if the issues that are important to local people are resolved will it be possible to create a sustainable peace, and this requires the facilitation of processes to enable participation, learning and network development. The first phase of the work was conducted through a grant from the United States Institute of Peace to Columbia University, US. The second phase has been funded by Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI) in Myanmar.
We are working with the Relief Action Network for IDPs and Refugees (RANIR) civil society network which includes farmers unions, women’s unions, religious organisations, and some local educational initiatives. Our local aim is to identify and support engagement in the issues that local people think are critical to a sustainable peace.
Our broader aim is to model how local community-led processes (Track 3 Peace Processes) connect with more traditional elite peace negotiation process (Track 2 and Track 1 change mechanisms).
In the case of Myanmar, the Track 1 strand is the nationwide ceasefire process, but going forward and more importantly it is also the national dialog processes. National dialog processes rely in part on shared knowledge creation processes: in a diverse country with varying subnational identities, actors and issues such as Myanmar, local knowledge and sub-national negotiation has an intrinsic value, which can also feed into national dialog. The work in Kachin is preparing for that peace from the bottom up, with local communities finding answers to local and national problems.
At the moment the groups are primarily involved in issues which affect local towns and villages and the internally displaced person (IDP) camps. We are now exploring how this energy can move into the peace process writ large. They are also exploring the way in which drug addiction and the movement of drugs impacts on prospects for peace.
Participatory methods and processes used in our work
We have used a variety of methods to carry out this work. We started with a Participatory Systemic Inquiry process. This begins with the collection of multiple stories followed by a large-scale collective life history analysis. We use life stories as a starting point because:
a) they allow the participant to convey what is important to them, and
b) unlike fragmented interview questions they allow us to see causalities in people’s lives, i.e. what led to what.
This in turn allows us to build systemic pictures of the dynamics that maintain conflict. The stories are then depicted as complex chains of causalities on very large system maps measuring 20ft by 6 ft. The system maps allow people to see the whole and to see the connections between factors. They also allow participants to see where in a complex system possibilities for interventions and actions lie.
The second stage in the process is Systemic Action Research. This is a multi-stranded action research processes which allows for multiple stakeholder engagement and also enables many intersecting issues to be engaged with in parallel – joining together periodically where there are overlaps. Here we identify critical issues, possible solutions and then test the impact of those solutions.
The final phase which we are currently in we call Nurtured Emergent Development. This is a more organic process which is akin to movement building which allows the initiative described above to take off and move to scale across the region.
For 2015 alone the process has generated:
- Mine Risk Education (MRE) and associated awareness raising for the first time in Myanmar’s most conflict affected area to more than 8,000 people.
- Awareness rasing on drug abuse and harm reduction for almost 7,000 people.
- A series of relationship-building activities and campaigns supporting social cohesion and violence reduction between IDPs and host communities that have involved hundreds directly, and positively impacted the behaviour of thousands indirectly.
- The initiation of dialogue forums (four so far) in multiple locations in Kachin state. These are supporting the emergence of sub-national dialogue in Kachin State, and have framed an action plan for state-wide and locally-led peacebuilding activities for the next two years.