Summary of Adding Up To Peace: The Cumulative Impacts of Peace Programming

Summary of

Adding Up To Peace: The Cumulative Impacts of Peace Programming

By Diana Chigas and Peter Woodrow

Available online at

Summary Written by: Brandon S. Brown

CDA Collaborative Learning Projects Inc. published this text with the intention of shedding light on the question; “How do numerous peace efforts add up to produce progress towards peace over time?” (pg. 1). From 2007-2012, The Reflecting on Peace Practice Project (RPP) (launched in 1999) entered into their second phase by developing and evaluating training materials and the delivery of workshops in numerous conflict zones.  During this second phase of the RPP project, the goal was to “explore systematically how multiple peace efforts in the same conflict zone have cumulative impacts, and how they ‘add-up’—or don’t add up—to producing significant progress towards Peace Writ Large” (PWL) (pg. 2). 

The case studies consisted of a collaborative learning process which engaged wide ranges of people to research and write cases, utilizing both “internal” and “external” researchers seeking to draw lessons from the evidence collected.  The cases compiled perceptions of local and international stakeholders by asking interviewees; “What kinds of progress took place, and what, in your view, made that progress or helped propel it?” (pp. 2-3).  Sixteen cumulative impact case studies were analyzed in an intensive and iterative process that coded cases based on collaboratively-identified themes. 


Here, the most significant findings are presented from the case study process.  RPP identified six domains (pg. 14) that represent essential concerns where progress is needed:

  1. Physical security and sense of security;
  2. Acknowledgement of key conflict drivers and commitment to address them;
  3. A durable political arrangement for handling power;
  4. Resilient relationship between government and society;
  5. Economic fairness and opportunity; and
  6. Social cohesion

Evaluating progress made over time and identifying patterns across different domains is key to understanding a conflict context.  Evaluating existing system change “provides opportunities to reinforce and accelerate progress” (pg. 18), and researchers must also consider what fuels a lack of progress—“persistent issues,” or “unfinished business” which effect the sustainability of progress.  More important than the number of unresolved issues in a conflict is the “‘density,’ severity or depth, of the unresolved issues and their relation to the conflict context” (pg. 21)  It is important to recognize that locals have the greatest influence when it comes to achieving, or not achieving, progress towards peace.

RPP did not find a dominant pattern in the “adding up” process.  Case studies did present individually coherent stories about how progress was achieved in specific contexts, but no single approach was discovered which facilitated cumulative impacts consistently.  What was discovered, however, is “that the interactions among the domains are as important as achieving progress in the individual domains—a concept supported by systems thinking principles” (pg. 25).  Other things that were not found included substantial linkage to any economic factors in particular or substantial evidence regarding contributions by women to the adding up process.

Consensus around two broad goals that comprise PWL and reach beyond achieving just a negative peace was reached by RPP concerning peace programs (pg. 31):

  • Stopping violence and destructive conflict, that is, ending war and cycles of physical violence; and
  • Supporting social change to address political, economic and social grievances that drive conflict and to achieve sustainable and just structures.

Five benchmarks for assessing whether programs are contributing to PWL were established through the RPP work, and those five criteria are additive: the more elements that are addressed, increases the likelihood that programs will make significant contributions towards peace.

A comparison of systems dynamics maps/causal loop diagrams and factor trees is discussed.  RPP favors the factor trees over the causal loop diagrams because they “convey a snapshot of causal factors at work in a system with a ‘modest indication’ of how they interact or influence each other,” whereas the causal loop diagrams are “not helpful for comparative analysis of what progress towards sustainable peace looks like across different cases” (pg. 33).  Some examples of factor trees are provided with an explanation of how a broad snapshot of progress at particular times can be produced.

Chapter Three discusses “linkages”—factors or relationships that connect one thing to another—and their importance.  The cases studied suggest that connections can be “relationships among people;” “connections or alignment among different types of peacebuilding work or interventions;” and, “ties or relationships between various issues or types of change” (pg. 60).  The more linkages are centered on key driving factors of a conflict, the more likely they are to be effective. “Linkages cannot be forced, but are more effective when they are ‘voluntary and incidental,’ that is, they grow out of the situation” (pg. 62).  Horizontal, vertical, and international-local linkages are all discussed.

The positive and negative impacts and implications of outsider support during peace programs and processes is addressed in Chapter 4. “The essential findings are that support for local leadership and initiatives must come first, and that efforts by external peace practitioners must complement internal efforts and, at minimum, avoid undermining local partners or otherwise making matters worse (the Do No Harm principle)” (pg. 96). 

Chapter Five concentrates on the many forms of leadership and how, at all levels, “leadership represents an important resource or capacity in the system for change” (pg. 97).  This chapter gives a comprehensive review of the role of leadership at various phases and levels of peace processes.


Challenges in the field of peacebuilding and utilizing systems thinking approaches are the focus of Part Two.  Chapter 7 offers “A Framework for Collective Impact in Peacebuilding.” It states that “the overall ‘model’ for effective peacebuilding should embody adaptive management in relation to constantly updated and systemic analysis of the key drivers of conflict” (pg. 123).  The framework proposed by RPP is set to achieve the goal of creating greater impact from collective efforts towards coordinated and specific sets of shared peace goals considering the context of individual conflicts as well as the lessons learned through the thematic analysis of conflict case studies.  A comprehensive list of “Fundamental Principles Supporting Collective Impact in Peacebuilding” is offered on pages 124-125, followed by steps needed to conduct initial assessments and strategy developments.

RPP reframed the five basic conditions presented by FSG (Foundation Strategy Group) that need to be met in order to achieve collective impact. RPP’s adjusted conditions are as follows:

  1. Collective and Emergent Understanding;
  2. Collective Intention and Action;
  3. Collective Learning and Adaptive Management;
  4. Continuous Communication and Accountability; and
  5. Sufficient Support Structures

RPP believes that “there can be no generic formula for addressing these conditions; the approach, methods, and processes must be adapted to the specific political, economic and social context” (pg. 132).  A detailed table exploring these conditions concludes the chapter.

Chapter 8 describes the importance of systems thinking and the utilization of systems maps to develop strategy. “Systems thinking is a way of understanding the reality that emphasizes the relationships among a system’s parts rather than simply listing the individual parts” (pg. 143).  The two questions important to pose when using systems maps are; 1.) What most needs to change in the system and 2.) Among high-priority issues identified in #1, what are we best able to address in the system?

The closing Chapter 9 poses the question, “Where do we go from here?”  RPP offers recommendations in six broad categories to end the text.  The six categories believed to take peacebuilding to the next level are:

  1. Applying basic principles consistently
  2. Attaining shared understanding
  3. Creating effective peacebuilding initiatives
  4. Addressing challenges of strategy development
  5. Reaching beyond coordination to collective impact
  6. Advancing the prevention conundrum

“Peacebuilders should see themselves less as narrow specialists and more as generalists who build bridges across related fields, integrate a conflict lens into development, human rights, and humanitarian assistance efforts, and link creatively with nonviolent movements for social justice” (pg. 163).