Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 11/2009

Understanding Local Context: The Use of Assessment Tools for Conflict-Affected and Fragile States

July 2009

International Peace Institute


On June 11 and 12, 2009, the International Peace Institute (IPI) convened an experts’ workshop as part of an ongoing project called Understanding Local Context. The project aims to improve understanding of how international actors grapple with local context and dynamics in the countries where they work. It asks two basic questions: What tools or other means do international actors use to assess and understand the local context in the countries where they work?  How do the information and analysis produced by these instruments influence international actors’ decisions, policies, and programs? The first phase of the project is focused on the many formal tools that have been designed by international actors in recent years to assess governance, conflict, and state fragility. However, these categories are somewhat blurry, and many assessment frameworks—whether they are labeled conflict assessments, governance assessments, or fragility/stability assessments—seek to understand several of these dimensions simultaneously. This workshop brought together twenty-four experts from donor governments, the United Nations, and independent research organizations with experience in designing and/or using assessment tools, as well as those who have been involved in using the analysis generated by these tools for decision making. It offered a forum for the fruitful exchange of insights and a space in which to foster new ideas about ways to improve analysis and the use of analysis in decision-making processes. This note is a summary of the main points that emerged from the discussion. It is intended for use as a reference document and will serve to inform a forthcoming policy report on the initial findings from the first phase of the Understanding Local Context project.