policy paper: complex conflict

The assignment is to prepare a policy paper or pre-proposal on a state or minority group or politically significant community, selected as currently experiencing a complex conflict that has involved sustained tensions or violence, and which you think would benefit from a multi-track initiative involving your organization (or an organization you would like to work with). You may choose to write on any conflict that meets these criteria, but the choice should be approved in advance. You may also elect to focus on specific issues or parties within such a conflict – there is room to think creatively and build on your strengths and preferred career path. Be sure to draw on (and cite) relevant class readings, and other sources relating to the conflict that you find useful in guiding and supporting your assessment, projected futures and proposed initiative, to give the reader confidence that you understand the field well enough for your paper/proposal to be persuasive (and to demonstrate to your instructor that you are able to assess, integrate and apply the relevant material covered in the course).


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The paper should be addressed to an organization whose assistance or support your organization is seeking for this initiative (as funder, collaborator or official body whose approval is required).


The paper should begin with a title page, including: (1) an informative title/subtitle for the paper; (2) your name and the name of the organization you are working for (or aspire to be working for) in preparing the paper; (3) who your local partner organization(s) are (if your organization is not local) – if not sure, indicate the type of local organization you are hoping to partner with (e.g., CSO – civil society organization, local government or agency, educational institution, women’s group, business organization etc.); and (4) the name of the organization(s) to whom the report will be presented as potential supporters. Associate yourself with CIDCM or any organization you would like to work with – the paper can potentially be used as a way to show them why they should employ you.  Note also (5) the course you are enrolled in and submitting the paper for (bottom right of the page).


Next should be an executive summary of no more than a page (single spaced), highlighting the key points of your conflict assessment, prognosis, recommended initiatives and projected outcomes, as needed to motivate your intended audience to read the full report and act on it. It is neither a cover letter nor introduction – best to write it last, after your full text has been worked out.

A table of contentspage is optional – but at least make strategic use of sub-headings to clarify the logical development of the paper.


The report will be in three main parts:

  1. Diagnosis: A conflict assessment to evaluate the appropriateness or feasibility of a multi-track initiative;
  2. Prognosis: Future overall scenarios that may emerge for the conflict region as a whole, based on the conflict dynamics discussed in part 1; and
  3. Treatment: Planning and proposed structure for a multi-track initiative, including bringing together influential (unofficial) representatives of the parties to promote conflict transformation, and planning for how to engage first track (official) representatives/decision makers in building toward a preferred scenario.


Part 1Diagnosis: This should assess the dynamics of the conflict and the feasibility of potential second track intervention.

  1. What is the conflict about? Place the conflict issues briefly in historical and regional context, noting significant risk factors driving the conflict (reference class readings on what these may be). Note what stage the conflict is in now (unstable/militant politics, low-level/escalating violence, war, talk-fight/stalemate, de-escalating/contained, contested settlement, reconciliation—see Gurr& Davies ch.).
  2. Who are the parties involved? They may include states, minority groups, leaders, organizations, factions, alliances, spoilers, regional or international stakeholders? How are they affected, what are their sources of relative power/influence, and what are their agendas or demands (positions)?
  3. Identify the primary interests or objectives of each party underlying their positions, and the (non-negotiable) human needs(including identity needs) underlying their negotiable interests. What interests or needs are shared, which may be complementary and which are conflicting?
  4. What are their perceptions of each other, and what information and communication channels are available between or among them (official and unofficial)? What cultural (and values) contrasts are involved here? To what extent do the groups need each other’s cooperation to achieve their goals?
  5. What significant previous attempts to settle the conflict have been made or are being made, by whom (whether official or multi-track) and with what results? Reasons for failure or limited success?
  6. Are the groups willing to talk with each other at this point? At what level (officials or informal leaders, national, local or grass roots), and subject towhat conditions? What factors are pushing them to talk or inhibiting them?


Part 2 – Prognosis: This should focus on future scenarios, specific to the conflict situation you are addressing.

  1. What are some plausible alternative future scenarios, or common futures, for the conflicted society as a whole, say in 20 years, assuming inadequate new peace-building initiatives or reform policies? Note the assumptions or conditionalities on which each overall scenario is built (link back to risk factors driving the conflict as noted in 1a above), going beyond simple war/no-war dichotomies, and not restricting yourself to single issues or strategic choices in isolation from the big picture.
  2. In contrast, what is the preferred overall outcome or future scenario, considering the interests of all parties, that might be achieved with appropriate negotiations, reforms and rebuilding initiatives at local and/or national levels? This contrast needs to be clear to motivate the parties to deal.
  3. What is the best outcome each of the main parties could reasonably achieve for themselves withoutcooperating or negotiating an agreement with the others (“BATNAs”) or depending on good luck or wishful thinking? (BATNAs, or best alternative to negotiated agreement, represent parties’ bottom line: negotiation and agreement require reasonable hope that each party can do better than their BATNA.)


Part 3 – Treatment: This should outline the proposed multi-track initiative, including goals, planning for integrative problem-solving workshops, policy recommendations, and potential outcomes.

  1. What are the overall long-term goals and multi-track leadership strategies needed to transform this conflict? More specifically what are your organization’s near-term goals and second-track leadership strategies in the initiative, who are your (potential, including local) partner organizations, and what representatives of the parties have expressed interest in your assistance?
  2. Which organizations would convene and facilitate the workshops and who would represent the parties as participants in such talks? What issue(s) might they be ready to address?
  3. What specific steps are proposed to prepare the ground for a suitable interaction among the parties as “partners in conflict” or “partners in peacebuilding”? How will participants be selected and agreed to? What prior caucusing with each party may be needed to ensure agreement on an agenda and ground rules? Might preliminary workshops be needed to prepare the ground for the primary party reps to meet, or to be identified and/or trained, or to create bottom-up momentum by addressing local issues first?
  4. What steps for trust building and skill building are proposed for the participants before or during the first major workshop, before the parties will be ready to focus on their own conflict?
  5. What steps are proposed for facilitating consensus building at least in this first major workshopby the participants toward better understanding and cooperation in seeking common ground?
  1. Give an example or two of specific integrative options for conflict transformation or peacebuilding (sustainable development) that might emerge from the proposed second track initiative that would promote the realization of the preferred overall outcome and long-term goals. Explain how they address key interests/needs of the main parties, who might implement them, and whether each one represents a short-term response (e.g., threat containment, confidence building), medium-term strategy (e.g., building the foundation for an official peace process) and/or long-term objective (e.g., appropriate new institutions of inclusive and effective governance, power sharing, autonomy).
  1. How is it proposed to facilitate action planning, re-entry, implementation and longer-term constructive engagement by participants and other actors in building on the initial workshops? How will second track actors impact or engage first track policy makers?
  2. What related policy recommendations would you offer to relevant official actors that you may be able to engage, and at what stage? How can first and second track efforts support each other? (More detailed responses to these questions are expected for grad students.)
  3. Give examples of expected outcomes, including impact both on participants and on their communities, that could provide criteria for evaluating the success of the initiative. For example, how will the process link into or promote an official peace process or otherwise facilitate constructive official engagement and/or broaden grassroots support and/or outside support for peacebuilding?
  4. How will the initiative be evaluated throughout? Include outputs (e.g., workshops, number of individuals trained), impact (e.g., changing attitudes, policies and behavior by individuals, communities and institutional actors) and longer-term outcome assessment (e.g., reduced violence, cooperative action steps toward peace and needed institutional reforms).
  1. What specific actions or support are now requested from the organization(s) to whom this proposal, paper or brief is addressed, in order to help make this initiative happen? (No budgets required at this stage – these will be appropriate at the stage of a final proposal where financial support is requested.)


Finally, the References section should list (in a consistent, standardized format, including authors and dates, sufficient to allow ready access by the reader) the main relevant sources supporting your analysis, predictions and recommendations, and all sources cited in the paper (including relevant course readings), as needed to help an intelligent professional assess the proposal and your credibility as someone worthy of support. As a rough guide, a good paper will normally include at least a dozen references (for undergrads), closer to 20 for grads, about a third to half of which are relevant readings from the course.


The following on-line sources may be helpful in locating current and historical background information on the conflict you have chosen for the briefing: International Crisis Group (www.crisisgroup.org); Center for Systemic Peace (www.systemicpeace.org); US Institute of Peace (www.usip.org); Council on Foreign Relations (www.cfr.org); European Council on Foreign Relations (www.ecfr.eu); US Department of State (www.state.gov); US Agency for International Development’s Development Experience Clearinghouse (https://dec.usaid.gov); Minorities at Risk (https://cidcm.umd.edu/research/all-minorities-risk-project); Program on Conflict and Peacebuilding (http://escolapau.uab.cat/english/alerta/index.php); Conciliation Resources’ publication Accord (www.c-r.org/accord); The Economist (www.economist.com) ; UNHCR, UNOCHA, International Institute for Strategic Studies Armed Conflict Database; Reliefweb, Crisisweb, Minorityrights, Federation of Concerned Scientists, World Bank, regional development banks, etc.

Potential funders, in addition to USIP, USDOS, USAID, World Bank and regional actors as above, include the UN Development Program (www.undp.org), UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (www.unesco.org), foundations (both non-profit and corporate: see www.foundationcenter.org, www.foundations.org).



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