A conflict assessment is a useful tool. Useful for getting conflicting parties to the table. Useful for giving conflicting parties a common base of knowledge to work from. I have discussed these uses in the preceding 5 posts I have written. There is another more important use I will discuss today.
We already know what a conflict assessment does: it tells you, for the most part, who is in conflict and why they are in conflict. There will always be surprises, hence the ‘for the most part’ hedge. If you are already involved in said conflict you may have an advantage in assessing the players and purposes over an independent, third-party assessor, but doubtless there will still be some surprises.
When you are an independent third-party you hopefully begin your assessment with an open mind. Initially, there may be some surprises in assessing your conflict. This is where the assessment comes in handy. The lack of any surprises could indicate that you have an idea of the conflicting parties motivations and are ready to intervene. However, any big surprises could indicate some very real dangers to any attempt to intervene.
The Real Reason you do a Conflict Assessment
It is in documenting those surprises and dangers that provides the utility of the conflict assessment. You could find that the conflict you are involving yourself in is ripe conflict, that is, caught up in a painful stalemate (see I. William Zartman’s theory of ripeness discussed here). You could also find that intervening in a particular conflict will put personnel and resources in danger.
A conflict assessment is useful in helping you to make the determination of whether to involve yourself and/or your organization in any attempt to resolve a conflict. This is an important question because aid workers are often kidnapped, tortured, and murdered for their efforts. The threshold for risk is something that each individual and organization must decide for themselves.
Those who would intervene in any conflict place themselves in real danger. Assessing a conflict beforehand allows them to determine what, if anything, can be done and where to place people and resources most effectively. There is not always a right time to get involved in a conflict, regardless of your intentions. Most certainly, there are bad times to get involved with a conflict. The real utility in conducting a conflict assessment is that it gives you a tool to help you understand what kind of situation you are placing yourself in.