In our field of humanitarianism and development, we often use the concept of a lens to discuss various themes we have determined are important. We refer to a gender lens or a human rights lens or a conflict lens. A lens is supposed to serve to focus our attention, but in a broad way. Just as I wear my glasses both to read and to drive, to see near and far, we are meant to use our lenses to view everything in our environment with regard to a concept.
To talk of a conflict sensitivity lens – or a Do No Harm lens – is to suggest that our attention should be focused on the conflict related implications wherever we look and whatever we do.
But the lens is not always the most appropriate metaphor for augmenting vision. Its wide approach can obscure the details, convincing us of a big picture that might just be a distortion in the lens itself. A lens is not always practical, enforcing a broad singular vision on all that we see. A lens offers little or no guidance to distinguish information, to separate importance from noise. Too much information is often worse than too little, leading to inaction. Viewing a situation through a Do No Harm lens can lead to paralysis because conflict and complexity appear to dominate our field of view.
We are assured by others that experience will help us to learn what information is crucial and what is not, that we will learn what to look for. This might be true, but we are still expected to do something today.
We can also use the concept of the filter. A filter removes things that are unnecessary. A filter focuses our attention narrowly, stripping out large amounts of information. Not every piece of information is relevant to understand the conflict dynamics of a situation. Simply put, not every piece of information matters when considering the interaction between women and men and their environment.
If we remove unnecessary information, we can focus our attention more precisely on what is important. This allows us to prioritize with more confidence, as well as to make decisions more rapidly and effectively.
The principle of Do No Harm is a lens. We can look at all of life through it. Many people have told me how Do No Harm changed their lives by encouraging them to apply their values in all aspects of their lives.
The practice and techniques of Do No Harm are filters. They remove unnecessary information and help us to focus on what is important: those factors that show us how we interact with and have an impact on conflict.
By Marshall Wallace, Director of the Do No Harm Program, CDA