Choose your language

2. What is Peacebuilding?

2.1 Definitions and Policy Development

In his 1992 report, “An Agenda for Peace,” former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali introduced the concept of peacebuilding to the UN as “action to identify and support structures, which will tend to strengthen and solidify peace in order to avoid a relapse into conflict.” 1 Over the years, various efforts have been made to elaborate on this definition. The Brahimi Report from 2000 defined peacebuilding as “activities undertaken on the far side of conflict to reassemble the foundations of peace and provide the tools for building on those foundations something that is more than just the absence of war.” 2 In 2007, the Secretary-General’s Policy Committee has described peacebuilding as:

“A range of measures targeted to reduce the risk of lapsing or relapsing into conflict by strengthening national capacities at all levels for conflict management, and to lay the foundation for sustainable peace and development. Peacebuilding strategies must be coherent and tailored to the specific needs of the country concerned, based on national ownership, and should comprise a carefully prioritized, sequenced, and relatively narrow set of activities aimed at achieving the above objectives.”3

The Secretary-General has set out his vision for peacebuilding in three reports (A/63/881–S/2009/304, A/64/866–S/2010/386 and A/67/499-S/2012/746) on post-conflict peacebuilding 4, and one (A/65/354–S/2010/466) on women’s participation in peacebuilding 5. The 2009 report identified five recurring priority areas for international assistance:

  1. 1. Support to basic safety and security;
  2. 2. Political processes;
  3. 3. Provision of basic services;
  4. 4. Restoration of core government functions;
  5. 5. Economic revitalization.

The report also laid out an accompanying agenda for action for the UN. The 2010 report on women’s participation in peacebuilding details the Secretary-General’s Seven-Point Action Plan on Gender-Responsive Peacebuilding, including specific targets for each of the seven points (conflict resolution, post-conflict planning, post-conflict financing, gender-responsive civilian capacity, women’s representation in post-conflict governance, rule of law and economic recovery).

Despite such increased attention on peacebuilding policy and practice since Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s initial observations, the 2012 report states that the UN and its partners must do more to ensure that countries emerging from conflict are able to contain and manage conflict themselves and transform it into sustainable peace. The report identifies inclusivity, institution building and sustained international support, as critical actions in preventing relapse into violence and producing more resilient societies. The report also notes that successful peacebuilding processes must be transformative, creating space for a wider set of actors – including women, youth, marginalized groups, civil society, and the private sector – to participate in national post-conflict decision-making. With respect to institution building, the report observes that public administration and social services delivered equitably and accountably can help in addressing grievances and rebuilding a country’s legitimacy.

The 2012 report reflects not only lessons learned from the UN’s experience in peacebuilding, but also wider policy discussions that have taken place amongst peacebuilding stakeholders. Countries emerging from conflict together with development partners, the UN and other international organizations, have articulated a shared vision of peacebuilding through the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and State-building. The New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States 6, a policy framework emanating from the Dialogue, identifies five overarching peacebuilding and state-building goals:

  1. 1. Legitimate (inclusive) politics;
  2. 2. People’s security;
  3. 3. Access to justice;
  4. 4. Employment generation and livelihoods support;
  5. 5. Accountable revenue management and service delivery.

The New Deal emphasizes the need to anchor support activities in a nationally owned peacebuilding plan (One Vision/One Plan) and endorses the use of compacts 7 as a means to implement those plans. The PBF contributes to the achievement of these peacebuilding and state-building goals, and looks for opportunities within its current Priority Areas to support the New Deal principles.

Various policies have stated clearly the “why” and the “what” of peacebuilding. Both the Secretary-General’s 2009 report and the New Deal clearly establish the scope of peacebuilding – i.e. it encompasses activities, ranging from politics and security to social services and livelihoods. The broadening of the scope has been an important development in recent years. Yet, what the various reports and definitions have been less successful at is the “how” and what makes an intervention peacebuilding and how it contributes to a reduction in the risk of relapse. Any intervention, whether a DDR programme or the construction of a school, can easily lead to more conflict. A clear theory of change, based on a conflict analysis, is needed to ensure that interventions reduce the risk of relapse.

At an aggregate level, one could distinguish four broad theories of change:

  1. 1. Address drivers and root causes (e.g. horizontal inequalities)
  2. 2. Build institutions and capacities of individuals, communities and authorities to manage conflict and deliver services (e.g. political, security, justice and government institutions that deliver social services)
  3. 3. Enhance social cohesion and build trust among social groups (society-society relations) (e.g. reconciliation processes)
  4. 4. Build trust in and legitimacy of governments (state-society relations) (e.g. political dialogue)

Within this general framework, peacebuilding programmes are strategic, prioritized interventions driven by the analysis of peace and conflict that address underlying causes or drivers and consequences of conflict. These programmes build confidence in peace agreements and transitional processes, and contribute to restoring social contracts between the state and the people, including through the building of institutions and the delivery of services, and strengthening inter- and intra-communal social cohesion. They may include activities that facilitate inclusive participation in political processes, dialogue and reconciliation, or strengthen access to justice and human security. They may also include peace dividends: tangible results of peace that are delivered ideally by the state, or are at least attributable to it, and are accessible to communities in a manner that is perceived as addressing inequalities, marginalization or grievances. They also create incentives for non-violent behavior, reduce fear amongst the general population and begin the process of instilling trust in institutions and the larger peace process. Public administration and social services, delivered in an effective and equitable manner, can address grievances that underlie or trigger violent conflict and offer a means for the state to reach out to society and rebuild its legitimacy and systems of accountability.


2.2 Resources for Peacebuilding Programming

Developing a programmatic response to peacebuilding priorities is a multi-step process that requires conflict analysis 8, including a consideration of the specific ways in which conflict impacts genders differently; a theory of change 9; an informed risk assessment, and a robust monitoring and evaluation framework. The UN system has developed a variety of resources that can be of assistance in developing effective peacebuilding programmes. While such resources are constantly being improved and developed, as of March 2014, the UN’s main resources include:


UN Peacebuilding: An Orientation (UN PBSO, 2010)

Prepared by PBSO in conjunction with other UN system entities, this handbook explains fundamental concepts associated with peacebuilding and introduces UN structures and mechanisms for peacebuilding, policy coordination and support. The handbook also provides examples and lessons from practice 10.


Conflict Analysis for Prioritization Tool (UN System Staff College, 2009)

Developed by the UN systems Staff College, the Conflict Analysis for Prioritization Tool is a set of online resources, visual examples and templates designed to help users consider and reflect upon all aspects of post-conflict and -crisis situations. The tool draws on conflict analysis to identify those issues and sectors that have the greatest potential to promote peace and prevent relapses into violence.11

Thematic Reviews of DDR, SSR and Peace Dividends Contributions to Peacebuilding (PBSO, 2012)

This series of multi-partner studies examines four different thematic areas of peacebuilding, focusing on sector engagements supported by the PBF as well as the cross-cutting question of gender responsiveness. The studies draw on lessons learned across country contexts to identify good practices in each area and factors that contribute towards making a particular intervention successful and sustainable.12


Technical Note on Conflict Sensitivity and Peacebuilding in UNICEF (UNICEF, 2013)

This forthcoming note, while intended to inform UNICEF’s programmes, will also be of value to a wider set of peacebuilding actors as it clarifies key concepts, distinguishes between conflict sensitivity and peacebuilding, provides best practices and a list of additional resources13.


UNDP Conflict-related Development Analysis – CDA (2003 and currently being revised)

Developed by UNDP, the CDA framework and guidance supports evidence-based decision-making on the basis of conflict sensitivity and responsiveness. The CDA serves to identify the causes of conflict, stakeholders, and the issues and dynamics in the conflict. The tool offers further guidance on analysis application for the development of clear and realistic peacebuilding programming and policy objectives as well as indicators for measuring results. The tool is currently being revised. The PBF Conflict Analysis Guidance will be integrated as one chapter of the revised tool14.

Rule of Law Indicators: Implementation Guide and Project Tools (UN, 2011)

Developed by DPKO and OHCHR, and endorsed through the UN Rule of Law Coordination and Resource Group, this document provides a comprehensive list of indicators in the areas of police, judiciary and corrections, as well as detailed guidance on planning, measurement, analysis and presentation of results15. While some indicators for other areas of peacebuilding support have been developed, these are considered as the most advanced.


Defining Theory of Change, Peacebuilding with Impact (CARE International, Jan 2012)

Focusing on theories of change can improve the effectiveness of peacebuilding interventions. A review of 19 peacebuilding projects in three conflict-affected countries found that the process of articulating and reviewing theories of change adds rigour and transparency, clarifies project logic, highlights assumptions that need to be tested, and helps identify appropriate participants and partners 16.


World Development Report 2011: Conflict, Security and Development (The World Bank, 2011)

This landmark work looks across at experiences from a wide range of country contexts to offer ideas on how countries can be supported in moving beyond conflict and fragility to secure development. The Report pays special attention to the challenges and risks associated with protracted and cyclical patterns of violence, including their potential impacts across national borders and the tools available to measure progress17.


UN Women Sourcebook on Women, Peace and Security (2012)

The Sourcebook ‘Women, Peace and Security’ is a comprehensive set of analytical and practical guidance material on the main thematic and operational elements of the Women, Peace and Security agenda. It includes guidance notes on gender and conflict analysis; planning and financing for gender-responsive peacebuilding; women and economic recovery; women and access to justice, etc. 18

Weblinks for additional reading material:


  1. 1. A/47/277 – S/24111, para. 21.
  2. 2. A/55/305–S/2000/809, para. 13.
  3. 3. Decision of the Secretary-General, May 2007.
  4. 4. A/63/881–S/2009/304, A/64/866–S/2010/386 and A/67/499-S/2012/746
  5. 5. A/65/354–S/2010/466
  6. 6.
  7. 7. A compact is a formal agreement between the recipient government and Fund providers.
  8. 8. See PBF Guidance Note 5.9 on conflict analysis.
  9. 9. The Theory of change describes the assumed or hoped causal relationship between an intervention and its (intended) peacebuilding result or impact.
  10. 10.
  11. 11.
  12. 12. PBF Thematic Review.pdf,, At the time of publication, the Gender Thematic Review was still being finalized
  13. 13.
  14. 14.
  15. 15.
  16. 16.
  17. 17.
  18. 18.