Complementarity and Networking

Mary Anderson

President of CDA (Collaborative for Development Action), Inc.

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Q: Complementarity and networking are sort of the buzzwords in the field of conflict resolution and peacebuilding. However, you think that simple complementarity and networking, without a purpose, aren't that interesting?

A: Well, it turns out that they aren't that effective. We just plain looked at it to see. As you know, there is this enormous variety of things that people do under the rubric of doing peace work or peace building or peace practice. We use the words "peace practice" just because the range of activities that people engage in is so large, that we decided not to try to define it more clearly than that. Rather, we let everything in when people explicitly said, "We are working on conflict." As we looked across that huge variety, even within the explicit peace field, it goes all the way from peace education, to conflict resolution, to mediation, to track-two issues. We did not look at track one; we stayed at the track one and-a-half and two level in terms of our own looking, and we didn't look at official government activity.

In other words we looked at the things that were below that in the hierarchy. Also, inter-positioning and non-violent direct action... There is this huge variety of stuff. I am sure I have said it myself, but the very frequent mantra used by people in peace work is, "Peace is very complicated, it's very long term, and it takes lots of people doing lots of things to build peace, and so I'm doing my piece of work and over time I have to assume that it will all add up." Yet the evidence is really quite powerful that it doesn't all add up. It just simply doesn't. So we started trying to look at why, because there are lots of people working at lots of levels, and they are smart and dedicated and so on, but why is it not adding up? What we found was much greater clarity about networking than we had known before.

Just to say, "Let's network and let's work at different levels and our work will be complimentary," without some explicit attempt to make it so... to make things add upin some strategic sense — and you might have to push me on what I mean by strategic — but anyway,without the attention to that, it doesn't add up. People need to be much more conscious of how they focus their sets of work and make explicit linkages to work in other spheres. Otherwise, they are just sitting there doing a little piece of work that's just a drop in an ocean that isn't doing any good at all.

Q: The way that you described people's understanding of "it will all add up" makes it sound like they are not networking. When I hear networking my image is of people going out and making linkages to people that are useful to them.

A: Well it depends on what kind of linkages, though, because in certain ways we observed that people spend a lot of time in meetings with each other and telling each other what they are doing, and actually don't spend quite enough time honestly telling each other what they are doing. There is a kind of tendency to show-and-tell, but not a real tendency toward very deep and analytical discussion about, "why we chose to do this in this circumstance," "what we intend to have happen," and "why we see this happening with that," and so on.

They are telling each other at one level what they are doing, but not, I think, as thoroughly as they should. But that aside, they spend time in some ways engaging in and joining networks and creating networks, as if in making the networks they are making peace. In all actuality, it really is what the network is around and what it is about, why they are doing this network at this time with these people, and for what purpose are they putting their work together... those things are much more important. Just to create a new organization, in which you are all on the same mailing list and exchanging information, doesn't mean you are actually working on the same issue in any concerted, strategic way.

Q: Did you see a network that actually worked in the way that you would say is a positive example for other people? Maybe you can also contrast that with one that didn't?

A: I would not use the word network about what we saw that worked. I would say we saw campaigns that worked. That is, we saw people undertaking a series of activities that, by the way they were constructed, created a certain momentum, and brought in additional people at two levels, and ended up having a significant discernable impact on the problem that they were addressing at the time. It's kind of a strategic campaign issue, and it meant that they were in communication with and doing joint activities with people, but they didn't spend a lot of time calling those things networks.