Intervention Coordination

Susan Allen Nan

September 2003

Together, complementary interventions can build peace processes that are stronger than separate pieces of peacebuilding can be on their own. When interventions complement each other, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. By increasing complementarity, coordination can strengthen the impact of our work.

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?

Additional insights into intervention coordination are offered by Beyond Intractability project participants.

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.

The Development of Intervention Coordination in the Conflict Resolution Field

As conflict resolution theory and practice have developed, there has been a growing understanding that many different actors contribute to peace processes. They play different roles both sequentially and simultaneously. The complexity requires that interveners must pay attention to the interaction of their efforts with other parts of a peace process.

Many conflict resolution scholars have investigated and written about intervention coordination. Fisher and Keashly noted that different interventions can be more effective at different stages of conflicts, arguing for multiple interventions over time.[10] Mitchell analyzed the many roles played in the Sudanese peace processes.[11] Kriesberg argued for the necessity of intervention coordination in order to avoid the unintended negative effects of uncoordinated interventions and in order to maximize the positive effects of conflict resolution work.[12] Nan analyzed coordination of conflict resolution efforts in three peace processes, and developed guidelines for improved coordination.[13] Crocker, Hampson, and Aall compiled cases of multiple mediators working on single peace processes.[14] Chayes and Chayes examined coordination of humanitarian activities and developed the model of planned decentralization.[15] Ricigliano developed the model of Networks for Effective Action (NEAs).[16] All of these works contributed to our knowledge of coordination strategies. (See Additional Resources section, below.)

At present, the conflict resolution field needs to further document successful models of intervention coordination, and encourage their adoption more widely. This essay presents the current state of the art in intervention coordination, but the field must continue to develop coordination theory and practice.

Why Intervention Coordination Matters

Coordination can strengthen peace processes, and a lack of coordination can weaken peace processes. Considering the complexity of inter-group conflict today, it is clear that complex responses are needed to address the relationship, substantive, and procedural issues involved, and to address them at all levels of society.[17] No single intervener can address each of these aspects of complex conflicts. A multifaceted range of responses by a diverse set of actors is essential for successful peacebuilding. Given the necessity of many conflict resolution interveners in any major peace process, intervention coordination, too, is necessary for effective peacebuilding. Intervention coordination helps us make the most of the resources we direct at conflict resolution.

When interveners share information, the most common form of coordination, they may discover ways to improve their interventions. At the most basic level, information sharing allows interveners to learn more about the conflict and conflict resolution process, and thus to plan better. This planning might involve shifts in previous plans.

For example, two organizations planning conflict resolution workshops with overlapping participants might adjust their planned workshop dates so as not to conflict with each other. Shared analysis of the conflict and conflict resolution needs can lead to better strategies. In-depth communication about plans and needs can also lead to areas where shared resources can maximize the impacts of separate initiatives, as when one intervener carries messages or materials for another into a hard to reach conflict zone, or when UN or OSCE convoys transport NGO-based personnel. Thus, even when full-scale collaborative initiatives do not make sense, coordination can lead to more efficient and effective peacebuiliding.

Uncoordinated interventions may have unintended negative consequences. For example, a party to a conflict might go forum shopping, engaging with a series of would-be mediators in an effort to find the best deal for themselves. Since mediators will be most successful when they work long-term and with the confidence of both parties, forum shopping is counter-productive to effective peacemaking. Other unintended negative consequences of uncoordinated interventions include: overloading the adversaries' attentiveness; conveying competing expectations; intermediaries acting to undercut one another's policies; and intermediaries pursuing incompatible policies.[18]

Kinds of Intervention Coordination

There are many types of coordination. As noted above, the different initiatives involved in peace processes can complement each other through sequentially building on each other's progress, with one picking up where the other leaves off. Also, they can build on each other with simultaneous complementary efforts, such as when several separate grassroots initiatives achieve a critical mass by separately spreading reconciliatory messages throughout a society. Beyond the sequential and simultaneous distinction, there are five basic approaches to coordination:

  • sharing information,
  • sharing analysis,
  • planning together,
  • resource sharing,
  • working in collaboration.

Each of these approaches to intervention coordination is briefly described below.

Sharing Information:

Even within the confines of confidentiality, interveners can find it useful to share a wide variety of information with each other. News reports are unlikely to hold much of the information that would be useful for planning appropriate conflict resolution initiatives. Instead, the parties to the conflict and one's colleagues engaged in diverse aspects of the peace process become valuable sources of information.

For example, the content of discussions at a recent unofficial dialogue would not be documented publicly, but participants might agree to a summary being shared, particularly if the summary does not attribute comments to any specific participant. Such a summary might be quietly shared with a small circle of interested conflict resolution professionals. These professionals could then better tailor their own related work to the current developments in the peace process. For example, Conciliation Resources has on occasion shared summaries of Georgian-Abkahz dialogues it has facilitated.

Sharing Analysis:

Interveners can also find it extraordinarily useful to share analysis of the conflict and the peace process with other analysts, interveners, and the parties to the conflict themselves. By building shared understandings of what has happened, what is happening, and what should happen in the peace process, interveners gain direction for their own work. For example, when Conflict Management Group (CMG) and Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) worked together on the Georgian-Ossetian Dialogue Project, NRC's staff in the conflict zone not only provided CMG (based in Cambridge, Mass.) with information on local developments related to the peace process, but also participated actively with CMG staff in analyzing the implications of those developments.[19] Or, joint analysis can involve in depth mapping of the conflict and the peace process as preparation for planning a stronger peace process.

Planning Together:

Interveners can find it useful to plan together, based on shared analyses of the needs of a peace process. For example, in 1999 the Track One interveners in the Moldovan-Transdniestrian conflict (OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine) discussed broad plans with the Track Two interveners (MICOM -- Moldovan Initiative Committee on Management). This discussion led to concrete activities that MICOM undertook (a study visit to Northern Ireland with the expert groups from both sides of the conflict and the OSCE, Russian, and Ukrainian mediators). While MICOM's activities remained separate from the official negotiation process led by the OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine, the shared planning allowed for increased complementarity of the separate processes.

Resource Sharing:

When communicating with each other about their plans and needs, interveners can identify ways to share resources. These resources may range from information (see above), to introductions to key contacts, to rides across security zones, to funding for specific initiatives. For example, one specific Georgian-Abkhaz locally-led initiative (to search for missing persons on both sides after the war) found support over time from several different international conflict resolution initiatives, each of which allocated resources from separate related projects to support the local initiative. Resource sharing requires trust in the capabilities, intentions, and goals of one's partners.

Working in Collaboration:

The most intensive form of coordination is working in collaboration on concrete joint initiatives. For example, as mentioned above, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and Conflict Management Group (CMG) collaborated on a dialogue project addressing the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict. NRC brought strong local presence in the conflict zone and a refugee assistance program to the collaboration, and CMG brought conflict resolution expertise. Together, the two organizations brought about strong improvements in the peace process that it is likely neither would have been able to facilitate on their own.

Why Coordination can be Difficult

Despite the many types of coordination available, intervention coordination of any sort is challenging. It takes time and money to overcome the physical distance between conflict resolution professionals headquartered around the world and to meet face-to-face with each other. Very rarely do funders provide support explicitly for coordination. Funding further complicates efforts to coordinate when there is insecure funding for conflict resolution initiatives. (Plans are often contingent upon receipt of funds, and coordination may seem less important when one's plans are not clear.) When conflict resolvers compete for funding from the same sources, they may be less inclined to share their developing plans with competitors.

There are also many challenges to coordination beyond financial concerns. Interveners may compete for prestige and contacts in the same way they compete for funding. Or, they may be wary of sharing information because of confidentiality concerns. Poor or simply non-existent personal relationships between conflict resolution professionals make it difficult to develop the trust necessary to coordinate with each other.

Finally, coordination supports work towards a common goal, and effective coordination is impossible when there is no common goal. Where interveners differ significantly in their approach, analysis of the conflict, and underlying theories of conflict resolution, these interveners may not share the same goal. These interventions may not directly complement each other. Resolution of the conflict may look very different to a human rights worker and a reconciliation expert. For example, a human rights appeal to highlight the atrocities of a war criminal and a reconciliation effort to forgive the followers of that individual might both have a place in a larger peace process. But, they would probably not be effectively launched at one ceremony together. The interveners behind each of these initiatives may not wish to work together at all. In sum, coordination does not always make sense.

When and Where to Coordinate

Coordination is not a goal in and of itself. Coordination should be employed as a support for conflict resolution interventions. Interveners should coordinate their interventions to the extent that intervention coordination helps them reach their shared goals more effectively. Where goals are not shared, or when progress is hindered by coordination, it does not make sense to coordinate. Coordination simply for coordination's sake does not help resolve conflicts.

When close coordination is very difficult, it may be inefficient to divert substantial resources away from other aspects of an intervention and towards coordination. However, relatively smaller efforts towards information sharing and joint analysis can significantly strengthen peace processes. In other words, if close coordination is inefficient in some situations, interveners can turn to information sharing and joint analysis as a less intensive but perhaps more efficient form of coordination.

We have identified some factors that make effective and efficient coordination more likely.[21] These factors relate to the roles interveners see themselves playing in the peace process, the relationships between interveners, and the structure of interventions.

Roles: Where interveners share visions of their mutually reinforcing activities together creating a stronger peace process, coordination is a logical support to that peace process. Where interveners play clearly defined separate complementary roles, such shared visions and resulting inclination towards coordination are more likely.

Relationships: Good personal relationships and high trust are also important, even at the basic information sharing level of coordination. Where interveners like and trust each other, they are more likely to make time to coordinate with each other. Long-term initiatives allow the time necessary for developing trusting relationships.

Structure: Long-term initiatives increase the opportunities for effective coordination because interveners get to know each other over time, developing the relationships and trust necessary for coordination. In addition, interveners who work long-term in a peace process have more reason to coordinate with others who share their commitment to that peace process. In addition, local representation by internationally based conflict resolvers contributes to the ability of interveners to maintain trusting relationships with others working on the conflict and to meet with new interveners to the peace process as they arrive on the scene.

These factors identified above also support Chayes and Chayes conclusion that planned decentralization is an effective mode of coordination.[21] In the planned decentralization model, intervention coordination takes place in the field where people can meet frequently and share the latest news, engage in analysis and strategizing together, and take joint actions where appropriate. When interveners have field-based representatives, these individuals can coordinate much more efficiently than the geographically scattered organizational leaderships of their respective organizations.

When Not to Coordinate

Coordination is not an end in and of itself. Coordination is a means to support a shared goal of conflict resolution. Thus, coordination should be avoided to the extent that it unproductively drains resources, wastes time, or compromises independence of action. In addition, coordination should not be taken to the extreme of compromising confidentiality.

There are useful separations between the different interveners in peace processes (Track One, Track Two, and different organizations within each track). NGOs and governments often have different approaches to a particular conflict, and thus will not want to compromise their independence from each other or otherwise blur their reputations with the parties to the conflict or other observers. For example, an NGO that supports one side of the conflict may turn out to play a useful role in the peace process by encouraging that side to come to the table with a credibility that no neutral group could. However, that NGO might lose its unique credibility with its favored party if it were to work too closely with more neutral groups. These useful separations between interveners and their approaches should not be blurred by inappropriate coordination.

How Interveners Can Coordinate

While acknowledging the useful separations between different parts of peace processes, conflict resolution professionals should consider coordination an explicit aspect of their work. Wherever possible, coordination should be part of the funded project work. Even where not explicitly funded, basic coordination, such as information sharing and joint analysis, can be accomplished with minimal resources and time when considered as part of a long-term conflict resolution initiative. By engaging in long-term work on one peace process, as opposed to many short-term initiatives in scattered peace processes, interveners can increase their ability to coordinate for complementary and effective peacebuilding. Interveners should consider each type of coordination when planning their work: sharing information, sharing analysis, planning together, resource sharing, and working in collaboration. In addition, interveners should consider how they build the factors conducive to effective coordination through their roles, relationships, and structure.

How Funders Can Encourage Coordination

Funders supporting conflict resolution need to also support coordination of conflict resolution efforts. This may be accomplished by providing funding explicitly for coordination, as the Hewlett Foundation provided funds to the Alliance for International Conflict Resolution as an investment in institutionalized capacity to coordinate within the U.S.-based conflict resolution community. Foundations can further support intervention coordination by adjusting grant applications procedures to decrease competition and encourage coordination. For example, foundations might require consideration of interactive effects with related on-going initiatives as part of grant application procedures in order to encourage at least the basic information sharing form of coordination.

How Parties to a Conflict Can Encourage Intervention Coordination

Interveners can learn who else is working on a conflict from the parties to the conflict. However, "the parties" is a broad term, and there may be sub-sets of the parties who are not aware of the many on-going initiatives addressing their conflict. As interveners speak with representatives of a broad spectrum of the societies in conflict, more and more of the on-going initiatives will come to light. The parties can also demand at least minimal coordination from the interveners they work with, asking the interveners to share information and resources in order to maximize the efficacy of their peacebuilding work.

Next Steps in Intervention Coordination

Coordination of conflict resolution interventions is an area ripe for exciting practical breakthroughs and for related further research. As conflict resolution professionals continue to try to coordinate their interventions, we need to develop further documentation of what works in which situations and how the challenges to coordination are overcome. Loose coordination, such as information sharing and joint analysis, is a first step. More intensive coordination can follow as appropriate.

The idea of networks for improved conflict resolution is attracting interest.[22] Ricigliano (2003) advocates Networks for Effective Action (NEAs) as a model for improving the efficacy of peacebuilding. NEAs should involve the diversity of interveners working on a peace process. Through NEAs each member of the network can find ways to collaborate as appropriate to work towards a shared purpose. NEAs should share a purpose, share principles of conduct, and be decentralized, self-organizing, and flexible in response to member needs. Establishing and tracking the functioning of an NEA would be a helpful next step in furthering our capacities for coordination.

As our conflicts today are more complex, and as our peace processes are thus more complex, we need to try new methods of coordinating our work. This area is broad, and includes many aspects ripe for cutting-edge action research. Key questions we must address now are:

  • How can Track One and Track Two interveners best coordinate between the two tracks?[23]
  • What methods of coordination can best be tailored for the differing situations in which initiatives are based either on very similar or on very different approaches?
  • Are there different methods most appropriate for NGOs, IGOs, and militaries in intervention coordinating?
  • What strategies might funders adopt to support coordination?
  • How can parties to conflicts, in the midst of waging their struggles and negotiating for peace, encourage and support coordination of the interventions that involve them?
  • In what ways can intervention coordination best be institutionalized? How can structures for intensive cooperation emerge and sustain improved peace processes?

We've only begun to address these questions. [24]

[1] Chester Crocker, Fen Oslar Hampson, and Pamela Aall, eds. "Herding Cats: Multiparty Mediation in a Complex World." (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1999).

[2] Coordination within one organization is usually mandated, and differs in form depending on the organizational structure and culture. Intra-organizational coordination is not considered here, but is also an important part of building strong interventions.

[3] See Click on " What We Do"

[4] Louis Kriesberg, "Coordinating Intermediary Peace Efforts," Negotiation Journal (October 1996): 303-314.

[5] Pamela Aall, Daniel Miltenberger, and Thomas G. Weiss, Guide to IGOs NGOs and the Military in Peace and Relief Operations (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2000).

[6] Robert Ricigliano, "Networks of Effective Action: Implementing a holistic approach to peacebuilding" (Working Paper. Peace Studies Program. University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. 2003.)

[7] Jos Havermas, "Every Conflict is Unique, and so is its Solution: Lessons Learned from Ten Years Experience in Conflict Prevention." In Anneke Galama and Paul van Tongeran, eds., Towards Better Peacebuilding Practice: On Lessons Learned, Evaluation Practices and Aid and Conflict. Utrecht, Netherlands: European Center for Conflict Prevention, 2002 (p. 138).

[8] Susan Allen Nan, "Complementarity and Coordination of Conflict Resolution Efforts in the Conflicts over Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transdniestria" (Ph.D. dissertation, George Mason University, 1999).

[9] Larry A Dunn and Louis Kriesberg. "Mediating Intermediaries: Expanding Roles of Transnational Organizations" in Jacob Bercovitch, ed. Studies in International Mediation. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002 (p. 210).

[10] Ronald J. Fisher and Loraleigh Keashly, "The Potential Complementarity of Mediation and Consultation within a Contingency Model of Third Party Consultation" Journal of Peace Research 28, no. 1 (1991): 29-42.

[11] Christopher Mitchell, "The Processes and Stages of Mediation" in Making War and Waging Peace ed. David Smock (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1993): 139-159.

[12] Louis Kriesberg, "Coordinating Intermediary Peace Efforts," Negotiation Journal (October 1996): 303-314.

[13] Susan Allen Nan, "Complementarity and Coordination of Conflict Resolution Efforts in the Conflicts over Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transdniestria" (Ph.D. dissertation, George Mason University, 1999).

[14] Chester Crocker, Fen Oslar Hampson, and Pamela Aall, eds. "Herding Cats: Multiparty Mediation in a Complex World." (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1999).

[15] Antonia Handler Chayes and Abram Chayes, Planning for Intervention: International Cooperation in Conflict Management (The Hague: Kluwer Law International, 1999).

[16] Robert Ricigliano, "Networks of Effective Action: Implementing a holistic approach to peacebuilding" (Working Paper. Peace Studies Program, University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, 2003).

[17] Susan Allen Nan, "Complementarity and Coordination of Conflict Resolution Efforts in the Conflicts over Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transdniestria" (Ph.D. dissertation, George Mason University, 1999).

[18] Louis Kriesberg, "Coordinating Intermediary Peace Efforts," Negotiation Journal (October 1996): 303-314.

[19] Susan Allen Nan, "Partnering for Peace: Conflict Management Group and Norwegian Refugee Council Collaborating on the Georgian-South Ossetian Dialogue Project." Confidential Paper for the Reflecting on Peace Practices Project, 2000.

[20] Susan Allen Nan, "Complementarity and Coordination of Conflict Resolution Efforts in the Conflicts over Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transdniestria" (Ph.D. dissertation, George Mason University, 1999).

[21] Antonia Handler Chayes and Abram Chayes, Planning for Intervention: International Cooperation in Conflict Management (The Hague: Kluwer Law International, 1999).

[22] Jos Havermas, "Every Conflict is Unique, and so is its Solution: Lessons Learned from Ten Years Experience in Conflict Prevention." In Anneke Galama and Paul van Tongeran, eds., Towards Better Peacebuilding Practice: On Lessons Learned, Evaluation Practices and Aid and Conflict. Utrecht , Netherlands: European Center for Conflict Prevention, 2002 (p. 137).

[23] The Alliance for Conflict Transformation and the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service are currently leading an initiative with the support and involvement of the Alliance for International Conflict Resolution, State Department, and United States Institute for Peace to address this question.

[24] Thank you to Antonia Handler Chayes, Andrea Strimling, and Joshua N. Weiss who offered helpful comments on an early draft of this module.

Use the following to cite this article:
Nan, Susan Allen. "Intervention Coordination." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: September 2003 <>.

Additional Resources