In this blog post, development aid practitioner specialising in conflict transformation and peacebuilding work, Bjoern Eser looks back at his six years of work in Nepal and shares the key questions that guided him. Eser argues that the Reflecting on Peace Practice Matrix helped efforts to make local initiatives more strategic, in particular when many international efforts were focused on Nepal’s constitution-building process.
After six years my work in Nepal is coming to an end. Twice per year I came to this country to support local conflict transformation and peacebuilding organisations in their efforts to make the transition from a deeply divided society whose fate was decided by a small elite to a democratic society that welcomes the country’s diverse heritage and the rich cultural diversity of its people.
In this time I had the privilege of working with a number of organisations active at community, district and national level. Again and again I was impressed by the immense wealth of ideas people came up with to address the country’s needs, by their optimism and cheerfulness to tackle the enormous tasks ahead, by their courage to stand up for what they believe in and by their willingness to personally contribute to Nepal’s transition process.
I was often humbled by people’s sense of commitment to making a difference and creating a more just and peaceful society. At the same time I often wondered how I could add real value to their efforts? And how I could do it in a way that keeps and strengthens the positive dynamics arising from the involvement of a large number of people, from drawing on their experiences and building on their ideas?
It soon became clear that I could best support these efforts by facilitating various processes throughout the country. Processes that allow people from all walks of life to improve their analysis of the situation and – building on that – develop further their ideas for change and how it should be implemented against the realities in Nepal. Nothing fancy, nothing spectacular, nothing groundbreaking – but powerful in its very simplicity and in its commitment to keeping it rooted in the experiences and aspirations of ordinary Nepalis.
The Reflecting on Peace Practice (RPP) approach and its underlying thinking quickly became the pivot of our processes and the reference framework for our discussions. Having played around with a variety of concepts and tools in a number of different conflict settings in Africa and Asia, I keep on coming back to RPP.
Why do I come back to it? In my eyes it provides an immensely helpful framework to unpack key elements of any intervention in a conflict environment; i.e. the analysis of the context and the dynamics at work before identifying the key factors that need to be changed; the positive change we want to see a few years down the line and potential strategies which seem best suited for reaching this very change; the underlying assumptions about how social change works and in how far these assumptions are realistic in a given situation.
In the beginning many of these processes focussed on the new constitution. The initial phase assessing people‘s aspirations for Nepal’s new key document was coming to an end by the time I got involved. But still ahead lay the daunting task of translating the hopes of the people into realistic strategies to put these demands forward and influence the constitutional assembly and other important players.
Looking back, the simple two-by-two matrix was probably the most important tool we used. When working in numerous interconnected processes, stretching out over several years, building on the inputs from countless groups from all around the country this simple grid helped us to stay focussed. Over and over again it forced us back to the main questions: Are we aiming at the right people? People who actually have the power and will to initiate the change we want to see? Are we systematically contributing to a lasting change on the socio-political level? Or do we focus mainly on personal change, naively hoping that this will automatically translate into the changes needed in the country‘s institutions and structures, policies and processes? And do the individual elements of our strategy actually add up?
The matrix helped us enormously to spot flaws in our thinking and gaps in our strategy that went unnoticed in the discussions and documents of a narrative nature.
RPP is great as you feel that it’s developed by practitioners for practitioners. The basic idea is simple without being simplistic. Something I was rather sceptical about in the beginning but quickly learned to appreciate when actually using the framework. And while the concept is coherent and enables you to address immensely complex situations, it allows the flexibility needed to adapt it easily to work with a variety of different groups of various levels of experience. RPP assists local initiatives to become more strategic in what they are doing. It encourages them to move beyond individual change and provides hands-on ideas to develop promising strategies to affect the wider society.
And – something that in my eyes is often underestimated – it allows for these complex processes to be addressed in a way that is not intimidating to the very people involved in these processes thus not limiting participation to a small group of experts but encouraging broad the involvement of people of all backgrounds, keeping the ownership where it belongs. With the local population.
Bjoern Eser is a development aid practitioner, specialising in conflict transformation and peacebuilding work. With a keen interest in supporting local peace initiatives in the areas affected by the Lord‘s Resistance Army (LRA), he spent three years in northern Uganda before continuing this work in a different role, heading Conciliation Resources‘ Uganda Programme.
In recent years his focus shifted to south and southeast Asia with a longer stretch in Timor Leste, setting up a training centre mainly for youth and community leaders, teachers, young politicians and NGO workers. Bjoern has extensive consultancy experience in several dozen countries in Africa, Asia and Europe. Being an amputee himself, Bjoern is increasingly interested in disability issues, focussing on developing new ways to increase the participation of people with disabilities in decision making processes. Despite his disability he is an outdoor enthusiast.
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Photo: Dhulikhel, Nepal – February 2013: Taken during a workshop with NGO representatives from all over Nepal. Credit: Workshop participant.