The Coordination Quandary: Applications and Implications of Post-Conflict Coordination Principles

Kristina Hook

March 2013

Directory-Oriented Peacebuilding Series

Far too often, a peace agreement is viewed as the final chapter in the saga of a civil war. In reality, however, the work of peacebuilding is just beginning. Successful post-conflict efforts will only survive the precarious early stages of the post-conflict period if they are based on a coordinated, integrated, and holistic approach by peacebuilding actors. Over the course of this four-part series, this author seeks to achieve four distinct yet complementary objectives. The first and foundational article of this series synthesizes existing academic knowledge to more fully understand the far-reaching impacts of civil conflict on societies, which in turn informs our understanding of the peacebuilding process ("The Cost of Conflict: Understanding the Ramifications of Internal Warfare"). The second article builds upon this knowledge, as principles of post-conflict coordination are introduced with the aim of demonstrating how increased coordination and cooperation could greatly improve existing efforts ("The Coordination Quandary: Applications and Implications of Post-Conflict Coordination Principles"). Practical applications of such concepts can be found in the following two articles. In the third article, the usefulness of a post-conflict directory is introduced and developed, as this author contends that such a resource would greatly improve the coordination of post-conflict efforts ("Rehabilitating the Responders: The Role of a Post-Conflict Directory in Improving Coordination"). The fourth article concludes this series by analyzing how a post-conflict directory would have improved coordination in the aftermath of the Ugandan civil war and the reconstruction projects that followed in its aftermath ("Substantiating the Claim: Establishing the Effectiveness of a Post-Conflict Directory").


Far too often, a peace agreement is viewed as the final chapter in the saga of a civil conflict. However, as touched upon in the previous article of this four-part series, the work of peacebuilding is really just beginning. The ramifications of civil conflict are complex and influence nearly every aspect of the post-conflict stage. As mentioned, the first ten years following the conclusion of a civil conflict are especially precarious, with data showing that civil conflicts are at an increased likelihood of reigniting in this context (see, Mack, 2006). In a similar finding, Collier notes that a full one-quarter of all peace agreements fail within five years of signing (2003). While some such failure is blamed upon the role of spoilers (see, Newman and Richmond, 2006) or the overall fragility of the post-conflict environment and the surrounding nations (see, Stedman, 2001), responsibility is also placed upon inadequacies in the support offered by the international community (Paris, 2004; de Conning, 2008). This article will primarily focus on the latter topic, the role of international community, in the post-conflict stage. As we consider the assorted and interlocking roles of international organizations in peacebuilding, this author believes that improvements in the coordination of international efforts should be a priority for peacebuilders. In order to substantiate this position, this article will in turn examine the need for post-conflict coordination, principles of post-conflict coordination, and finally, applications of post-conflict coordination.

The Need for Post-Conflict Coordination

The multidimensional and mutually reinforcing impacts of civil conflict do not only provide great challenges for peacebuilders. They also demonstrate the necessity for reconciliation and reconstruction programs to meet a wide variety of societal needs. These needs are so diverse that merely one program or agency could never be successful; its workers, funds, and resources would be spread too thin. But with a coordinated effort and a cooperative spirit, a myriad of programs enacted by a variety of organizations could prove much more successful in addressing post-conflict needs, as each agency focuses on its areas of specialization.

Has a post-conflict project hit a snag because of a lack of organizational coordination, or is underlying societal tension beginning to manifest itself?

Yet when arguing for improved coordination in reconstruction efforts, one must proceed cautiously. Not every obstacle that reconstruction efforts face is the result of organizational synchronization issues. When analyzing the effectiveness of reconstruction efforts, Paris warns that "too often, unrelated problems are misdiagnosed as coordination failures because they manifest themselves superficially as disorderliness or ineffectiveness in the field, whereas in fact they reflect deeper frustrations, tensions, and uncertainties in the state-building enterprise" (2007, 2). Such a concern demonstrates that reconstruction efforts must constantly be monitored by workers who are not only well-versed in the specific goals that the rebuilding efforts are trying to accomplish, but who also have insider knowledge into the culture of the post-conflict society itself. The workers whose duty it is to carry out reconstruction activities must act as bridge builders between the agencies who have created the specific rebuilding plans and the post-conflict society in which the plans are being enacted. However, in addition to these bridge-building responsibilities, field workers must be equipped to "translate" the project into culturally relevant terms. Part of this responsibility includes the ability to discern whether a project has hit a snag because of a lack of organizational coordination, or whether underlying tension in the society is beginning to manifest itself.

That being said, a historical analysis of post-conflict reconstruction efforts does suggest that international organizations could improve the efficiency of their programs, both in the planning and in the implementation stage, by improved organizational harmonization. The challenge to keep reconstruction programs, even those operating within the same geographical boundaries, organized and coordinated is a need that is well-recognized in the post-conflict community. As the scope and the number of organizations involved in peacebuilding has increased in the past 15 years, problems ranging from logistical challenges to turf battles have resulted. Famous examples from regions as diverse as Cambodia, El Salvador, and Mozambique revealed the cross-purposes of international organizations, as the United Nations pressed national governments to increase peacebuilding program spending even as the International Monetary Fund exerted pressure for financial restraint (Paris, 2007). Similarly, de Coning's analysis indicted the international community as a whole for these problems, stating, "The lack of meaningful coordination among peacebuilding agencies [is] a major cause of unsatisfactory performance" (2004). As coordination problems cropped up between governmental and non-governmental actors, between military and civilian actors, and even within sprawling international organizations such as the UN itself, the United Nations finally addressed the issue of organizational harmonization by creating a Peacekeeping Commission, which is designed to bring a greater sense of coherence to state-building agencies located within and outside of the UN (United Nations Peacebuilding Commission, 2005).

"The lack of meaningful coordination among peacebuilding agencies [is] a major cause of unsatisfactory performance."

- Cedric de Coning

Unfortunately, this problem of coordination is much easier addressed than solved. Despite the Peacekeeping Commission's ambitious work plan aimed at managing the plethora of international actors who partake in reconciliation and reconstruction projects, Paris makes a sound argument that the Commission has made "heroic assumptions" about the desire and the capability of independent organizations to support an overarching strategy, despite their different goals and missions (2007). He additionally argues that the status of the Commission as a purely advisory body may limit its effectiveness, as it has very little real leverage or authority over important peacebuilding agencies. Though the design of this Commission allows it to support the flexible and innovative nature of the large state-building network, its mandate also forces it to have the full support of every member before it can make a recommendation (United Nations Peacebuilding Commission, 2005), thus raising questions about whether the Peacebuilding Commission will truly be able to iron out differences between international agencies.

Principles of Post-Conflict Coordination

Despite the shortcomings of the UN Peacekeeping Commission, the recognition and the willingness of international parties to seek improvements in the areas of post-conflict communication and coordination are laudable. Regardless of the difficulties associated with promoting closer working relationships between the independent organizations mentioned above, encouraging a more developed sense of openness and cooperation between all parties involved in a post-conflict society's transition to stability needs to remain an international priority. Yes, differences exist between the goals and missions of such organizations, but repeated, continual efforts to maintain open dialogue between these actors must persist throughout the post-conflict transitional stages.

While innovative approaches to post-conflict coordination should always be encouraged, organizations may additionally find it helpful to study the best practices and lessons learned from previous experiences. Evaluations conducted by the United Nations can also offer many helpful suggestions for further enhancements in the field of post-conflict coordination. For example, at the request of the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) and the Peacekeeping Best Practices Section (PBPS) conducted a study designed to assess the lessons learned from previous missions and analyze how these examples might prove useful for the coordination of both UN and non-UN agencies around a single issue (United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, 2006). Because mine action missions reach beyond the purview of the United Nations, the projects carried out by this service often included a large gathering of external actors who were affiliated with a wide range of professional and institutional organizations. In this report, mine action missions involved fourteen UN agencies alone, thus providing a perfect opportunity to assess the challenges of integrating separate practices and policies into a united sectoral approach. Though this report found that the challenges of such integration must not be underestimated, the UNMAS experience demonstrates that "inter-agency functional integration can be achieved if a focal point function exists" (United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, 2006, 4).

As the UNMAS report continues, it bolsters this initial claim with practical suggestions for improving inter-agency coordination (United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, 2006). Because it contains an analysis of key issues that are likely to occur in various contexts, this report asserts that its suggestions are applicable to other post-conflict sectors, especially in the immediate post-conflict stage when community and political buy-in is critical and when the legitimacy and consistency of organizations are being determined. UNMAS suggests that one of the most important features of successful post-conflict action is a strong inter-agency coordination policy, consisting of a common operational concept, conformity on normative concepts, and a common set of working methods. The report urges a "broader agreement on common principles and working methods," (United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, 2006, 5) though obtaining such consensus may prove very difficult, as this series will address shortly. Again, however, the UNMAS report does attempt to offer practical advice as opposed to theory-based ruminations, as it reminds coordinators that such agreements must remain flexible and realistic and should be based on actual field competencies and operational scenarios, rather than detached, predetermined mandates.

Applications of Post-Conflict Coordination Principles

While the limitations of reports like the one presented by UNMAS have often been emphasized (see, Paris, 2007), this author believes that the core essentials of post-conflict coordination set forth in such reports still offer practical suggestions for the field of post-conflict reconstruction. When applying the principles contained in reports such as the UNMAS briefing (United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, 2006) to the sector of post-conflict reconstruction, several potential applications spring to mind. In the spirit of emulating the organized yet flexible spirit of such missions, reconstruction and reconciliation workers should attempt to create networking forums for all of the actors who will be involved in a post-conflict society. Perhaps the aforementioned United Nations Peacekeeping Commission could serve as a central piece of such a spread-out network. Its role as a purely advisory board, though limiting this commission's real effectiveness in some ways, may allow diverse organizations a measure of comfort, particularly those organizations who may resent relinquishing control of their activities or who have traditionally kept their operations independent of other actors. As a purely advisory board, the Peacekeeping Commission could provide forums for networking, giving organizations the opportunity to discuss best practices and to exchange lessons learned from previous reconstruction efforts. Despite its status as an advisory board, the Peacekeeping Commission has the necessary international clout and resources to facilitate additional networking between post-conflict reconstruction actors, governments, and donors. Members of the Peacekeeping Commission may quickly prove their usefulness even to outside organizations who have traditionally kept their activities separate if the Peacekeeping Commission uses its position to engage donors through coordination meetings and networking events.

Post-Conflict Coordination Efforts Need:
  • Increased Inter-Agency Cooperation
  • Improved Intra-Agency Communication
  • Greater Openness and Transparency
  • Defined Accountability Structures
  • Reliable Sources of Up-to-Date Information
  • Additional Platforms to Maintain Open Dialogue
  • More Opportunities for Networking Between Organizations
  • Broader Agreement on Common Principles
  • Organizational Harmonization Regarding Working Methods
  • Sector-Wide Commitment to Flexibility
  • Recognition of Challenges to Coordination
  • Innovative, Realistic Approaches to Working Through Such Issues

Perhaps success in the area of coordinating donor activities would lead to further integration of policies and methods among reconstruction and reconciliation actors. Paris notes that coordinated action is "easiest and most effective when it is based on shared understandings of context, challenges, and objectives" (2007, 29). The United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations suggests that one of the most effectual strategies for post-conflict operations is the creation of an inter-agency rapid response plan, which is supported by an emergency reserve fund (2006).

When trying to improve the working relationships between reconstruction actors, one must consider whether the problem is the result of poor coordination or of differing ideologies.

At present, it is difficult to imagine such close ties between the very different organizations that descend upon a post-conflict society. In many cases, organizations even disagree as to what "improved coordination" means, with some groups advocating a more defined hierarchy and other arguing for more openness. Moreover, it must be remembered that not all differences between organizations can be solved by increased communication or better organization. When trying to improve the working relationships between reconstruction actors, one must consider whether a problem is the result of poor coordination or of differing ideologies. Efforts to improve communication between agencies that share different ideologies are certainly not impossible, but they require a completely different approach than attempts to simply improve communication and organizational strategies. In other cases, limitations to coordination result from completely different organizational missions. For instance, one group in a post-conflict society may be charged with attempting to build better relationships between citizens and the post-conflict government, while another organization may be responsible for airing grievances against the government. In such cases, working closely together may reduce the effectiveness of both organizations.


Therefore, when considering the post-conflict landscape, it is clear that inventive plans to achieve coordination must be devised and then carried out by workers who remain committed to achieving the best possible outcome for their specific post-conflict setting, even if such an outcome is dependent upon a revamping of inter-agency cooperation policies and intra-agency communication. Such a statement, however, is not meant to imply that this process is easy. Complex challenges to coordination, such as differing organizational mandates, have been addressed in this writing. Still, few scholars, even the most realistic regarding this field's obstacles, would argue that the current state of international post-conflict support is achieving its maximum impact. Instead, remembering the findings of researchers like de Conning, who explicitly cites a lack of coordination among peacebuilding agencies as a major root of unsatisfactory performance (2004), peacebuilders must be willing to investigate and experiment with innovative and perhaps new mechanisms for achieving coordination. Only by doing so will post-conflict efforts stand a chance of combating the cornucopia of negative externalities resulting in the wake of a civil conflict.


Collier, Paul. 2003. Breaking the Conflict Trap: Civil War and Development Policy. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press/World Bank.

De Coning, Cedric. 2004. "Coherence and Integration in the Planning, Implementation, and Evaluation of Complex Peace-building Operations." Conflict Trends, 2004(1):41-48.

De Coning, Cedric. 2008. "The Coherence Dilemma in Peacebuilding and Post-Conflict Reconstruction Systems." African Journal for Conflict Resolution, 8(3): 85-109.

Mack, Andrew. 2006. Human Security Brief 2006. Vancouver: Human Security Centre, University of British Columbia.

Newman, Edward & Richmond, Oliver (eds) 2006. Challenges to Peacebuilding: Managing Spoilers during Conflict Resolution. Tokyo: United Nations University Press.

Paris, Roland. 2004. At War's End: Building Peace after Civil Conflict. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Paris, Roland. 2007. "Understanding the 'Coordination Problem' in Postwar State-Building." Unpublished manuscript, School of Public and International Affairs. Ottawa: University of Ottawa.

Stedman, Stephan. 2001. "Implementing Peace Agreements in Civil Wars: Lessons and Recommendations for Policy Makers." International Peace Academy Policy Papers Series on Peace Agreements, May 2001, New York.

The United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations. 2006. "Post-Conflict Coordination- The Case of the United Nations Mine Action Service: Lessons Learned." Peacekeeping Best Practices, June 2006, 1-27.

The United Nations Peacebuilding Commission. 2005. "Mandate of the Peacebuilding Commission." 20 December 2005. Accessed 21 February 2013.

Use the following to cite this article:
Hook, Kristina. "The Coordination Quandary: Applications and Implications of Post-Conflict Coordination Principles." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. March, 2013. <>.

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