Peacebuilding in a Turbulent World
Peacebuilding is the challenge of our age. We have entered an era of conflict that is taking new forms, and spreading in ways that are outstripping the power of the international community to respond. As ISIS spreads through the Middle East, Ebola roils West Africa, and conflict destabilizes Ukraine, it is clear that we need new conceptual lenses and creative approaches for managing global violence. Underlying trends point to the need for dramatically new ways of thinking about conflict, peace and stability:
- Problems such as climate change, access to resources, and outbreaks of disease are increasingly linked to conflict and challenges of governance;
- A rising global middle class has shifted the balance of resources and created new markets, and expectations of stability;
- Social compacts are coming into question globally with power shifting away from states and institutions to more amorphous networks;
- Extremist ideologies are finding fertile ground in countries where large segments of society feel marginalized;
- New communications technologies are changing social and governmental dynamics on every level, in unpredictable ways, e.g., civil society’s capacity to build coalitions and momentum against powerful elite interests using social media.
Conflict, security, human rights abuses, crime, and related global challenges are interconnected “wicked problems” — not amenable to linear solutions. Just as the causes of violent conflict are complex and interwoven, the approaches to managing conflict must be equally sophisticated and adaptable.
The Role of Peacebuilding
Peacebuilding is ultimately an elastic concept, encompassing a wide range of efforts by diverse actors in government and civil society at the community, national, and international levels, to address the immediate impacts and root causes of conflict before, during, and after violent conflict occurs. Peacebuilding ultimately supports human security—providing freedom from fear, freedom from want, and freedom from humiliation.
As global violence proliferates, a major challenge for us is to network peace – to interconnect the full spectrum of norms, institutions, and formal and informal networks and agencies that can manage conflict before it escalates into the kind of fury that poisons future generations. Peace is more than simply the absence of war: peace is a positive concept, integrating structural and process elements, that can be built, measured, and tailored to fit the infinitely changing needs of societies in transition. It is also important to note that these process elements must work on both fast and slow time scales.
Peace is also not a binary state – with war one day, followed by peace the next. The sharp borders between war and peace have given way to a new model of “cooperation, competition and conflict,” in which different states of conflict and peace co-exist.
As the world changes, peacebuilding will need to change, as well — to the point that the field needs to be rethought and include many non-traditional actors in its embodiment. Peacebuilding will need to be at once a more integrated field – encompassing health, education, development, democracy, rule of law, women’s empowerment – and also an integrative catalyst, the loom that weaves together all of these different threads to form a more cohesive whole. Peacebuilding will need to be the leader in dynamic systems approaches to social change, recognizing the complexity of each conflict environment. The field will need to advocate for “networking” peacebuilding throughout society, making peace and conflict sensitivity part of government, military, cultural and business.
Peacebuilding will evolve over three stages, and we now find ourselves at the cusp of Peacebuilding 3.0 (PB 3.0). Peacebuilding 1.0 consisted of a small field of peace-oriented organizations, focusing primarily on negotiation and consensus processes. Peacebuilding 2.0 recognized that development, democracy building, health, human rights, and a plethora of related fields all have a role in building peaceful societies, and that structural and process elements of peacebuilding need to work hand in hand. PB 3.0 will revolve around sophisticated integration and interoperability of all these fields – linked with stronger narratives of peace for social change. PB 3.0 is about understanding how complex and dynamic contexts work in order to shape them towards better outcomes.
Capable Structures and Networks for Peace
Peacebuilding capability has not been truly networked throughout the world –not in the sense of one more UN coordinating mission, or one more “infrastructures for peace” project – but integrated in every sense of the word into the DNA of society, in ways that are adapted to local conditions and local peacebuilding capacity. Similarly, vertical and horizontal linkages do not exist in any concerted way between islands of peacebuilding. There are very few connections between local peacebuilding capacity and global initiatives, and civil society peacebuilding efforts have no reliable way to connect horizontally to other efforts across national or sectoral boundaries.
A truly integrated peacebuilding system would stretch from grand strategy integrating ideas of human security into national and regional security policy, to local peacebuilding structures that could prevent and mitigate conflict at a communal level. These structures would need to be elastic enough to reach across sectoral divides, so that peacebuilding would be inclusive of, and an integral part of, development, environmental planning, health, human rights, and democracy building activities.
Dynamic Systems Approaches
We live in an increasingly networked world, where power is diffuse, conflicts are borderless, and no part of the world is isolated from a shock occurring somewhere else. Increasingly, conflict is understood as a “wicked problem,” a toxic brew of interconnected factors such as grievance, crime, climate stress, inequality, weak institutions, disease, and poor governance. Wicked problems cannot be solved by linear solutions, since short-term interventions may lead to unintended consequences and disruptions in other parts of the system that can dwarf the initial symptom. In wicked problems, you seek the “wise action” that will lead to the system finding its own solution, rather than the magical intervention that will “solve” the problem. As Robert Ricigliano and Karen Grattan write:
Because complex systems are made up of multiple, interlocking dynamics patterns, change to any one of these patterns will have ripple effects on other patterns in the system. Leverage occurs when an initial positive impact on part of a system is amplified by the interconnectedness and inherent dynamism among the feedback loops which make up the system. 
Peacebuilding is well placed to shape the environment in complex settings. Peacebuilding can help “read” the system, and mobilize wise actions that will change the system itself. Peacebuilding is an integrative process, which can help coordinate the action of multiple sectors – from education to health, development, human rights, justice, rule of law and business — in ways that have the most leverage and the fewest unintended consequences. Rather than all of these sectors acting independently, peacebuilding can provide the interoperability between the different actors and institutions in dynamic systems, and can work between levels of conflict, from deeply local networks, to large policy processes, allowing for more collective impact.
If peacebuilding were only about structure, we would have figured out a long time ago how to create durable peace. Peacebuilding also involves disrupting the dominant narratives surrounding political power and military force, and creating new stories of peace that can form the basis of a new truth on the ground. This narrative development must take several forms:
- In Washington, the dominant narrative assumes that military action is the most effective solution to terrorism and other forms global conflict. Peacebuilding and communications experts need to shape a new narrative in the policy community, based on peace being an integral part of national security. Peacebuilding needs to be reconceived as an effective, integrative, professional field that complements military approaches, and ultimately leads to heightened security.
- Even more important, mainstream culture needs to embrace peace in all its forms, and not simply as a throwback to 1960s utopian thinking. Peace must resonate at a very local level, through the media that citizens use for entertainment and education. Peace can be entertaining, uplifting, creative, musical, and surprising! Peace needs to be folded into games, movies, television shows, comic books, and other forms of media in ways that are as compelling and attractive as images of violence.
- Storytelling and micro-narrative mechanisms can help to better understand complexity, and describe systems in a more nuanced and granular way. Storytelling needs to be a crucial part of conflict analysis and strategy, rather than an “add-on” element to peacebuilding programming.
Technology and Learning
None of the changes outlined above will be possible without the technological innovations that have revolutionized data and communication. PB 3.0 will need to encompass:
- Data sensing and sharing
- Data visualization
- The use of neuroscience in understanding violent behavior and reconciliation
- Mobile applications across all peacebuilding sectors
- New forms of evaluation and measuring social change
- Gaming as way of testing and teaching these new models
At the same time that we embrace the positive power of new technologies, it is also important to keep in mind that the ethics and cultural implications of these tools have lagged behind the technical developments, opening serious questions about privacy, safety, and civil liberties.
The Role of AfP in Peacebuilding 3.0
In PB 3.0, AfP might start to look more like an organization specializing in interoperability between different sectors, helping “read” conflict systems and find non-linear solutions to a range of problems in the “cooperation, competition, and conflict” spectrum by:
- Helping develop cumulative strategies instead of more linear, sequential strategies;
- Working in pilot projects to demonstrate interoperability in different contexts;
- Broadening AfP’s umbrella to include all groups interested in this dynamic systems approach;
- Providing a space for gaming, simulations, teaching, and learning — all to help the peacebuilding field and related sectors learn to operate in a dynamic, complex systems environment;
- Changing expectations among donors: even succeeding part of the time is good in addressing wicked problems; failure is to be expected and success might be found in unexpected places;
- Helping create an intellectual infrastructure around complexity;
- Continuing to link civil society with policymakers.
AfP has already embarked on two major projects, to incubate PB 3.0:
1) Peacebuilding Edge Lab: Ann Pendleton-Jullian, an architect and systems thinker, is working with AfP to develop an innovative “edge lab.” The purpose of the lab is to “create a learning ecosystem of peacebuilding that will inform and shape the next generation of peacebuilding efforts.” The lab will likely reside in a university, with links through AfP to a broad network of peacebuilders and social change agents around the world The lab will focus on projects that are designed to reshape the context in which peacebuilders and their allies conduct their work, and will be organized around four streams of work:
- Mapping the existing ecosystem of AfP members and partners: to understand “the long tail” of peacebuilding work; to discover and unpack key successes, partial successes and failures in this long tail; to design networking and learning mechanisms; and to design a practice of continued scouting, network building, and learning.
- Aligning peacebuilding efforts with complex systems approaches;
- Integrating and innovating new tools and technologies to enhance practice.
- Taking on specific seemingly intractable peacebuilding projects identified from within the lab or from partners outside the lab
2) Media and Peacebuilding Roundtable Series: AfP is convening top thinkers and executives from the media and peacebuilding worlds to conceptualize how media could be used to effect dramatic social change in the peacebuilding arena. In April, AfP convened a roundtable in Washington focused on changing the narrative of peacebuilding in the policy community. In October, AfP and the USC School of Cinematic Arts co-hosted a roundtable with creative leaders in the film, television, advertising, gaming and “transmedia” worlds, to discuss the role of media in shaping tangible change in an ongoing, transformational way. And AfP is exploring with the Leo Burnett Agency how to develop one or more peacebuilding campaigns, in local regions around the world where media could significantly enhance a peacebuilding process already underway, or spark new thinking on conflict.
New Partners, New Stories
AfP looks forward to welcoming new thinkers, actors, designers, scholars, and entrepreneurs into this conversation about Peacebuilding 3.0, and to working together to find evolving forms of peace in a complex, violent world.
 Robert Ricigliano and Karen Grattan, “Advice to Policymakers Who Would Tackle Syria: The Problem with Problem Solving,” PRISM, Syria Supplement, Volume 4, 2014.
 From Ann Pendleton-Jullian’s 2014 concept paper outlining the Edge Lab