Why Learning Matters in Preventing Violent Conflict
Professor David Connolly is Practitioner Chair in the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen's University Belfast.
This commentary argues that ‘learning’ provides organizations with a new framing and distinctive approach to preventing violent conflict. It makes this case by applying the concept of a ‘learning organization’ and by focusing on the Global Fragility Act (GFA), which was enacted by the United States (U.S.) Congress in 2019 and launched last month by the Biden administration. Building on the author’s recent assessment of conflict prevention, this commentary explores fresh thinking and the emergence of best practice in the context of profound global challenges to peace and security.
The Promise of Learning Organizations
The field of conflict prevention is hindered by a weak evidence base. In particular, practitioner knowledge has not been adequately captured and disseminated. Independent research is needed to fill these gaps, but peacebuilding organizations can add value by tracking what works. This type of knowledge, in turn, needs to be better appreciated by researchers. Consequently, the role of organizational learning in conflict prevention, and peacebuilding more broadly, has received scant attention.
Borrowing from the adjacent field of public policy and administration, a learning organization seeks “to demonstrate that it can learn collectively” through “systematic problem solving; experimentation and the testing of new knowledge; learning from experience; learning from others; and shared knowledge and knowledge-spreading mechanisms.” Learning organizations are “quick to identify, digest and apply the lessons learned in its interactions” with “the constantly changing legal, political, economic and social environment”. Outcomes range from “piloting innovative services and structures” to the development of innovative solutions.
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Article originally appeared on the website of the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen’s University Belfast.