Conflict Sensitivity

Implementing a project to prevent or counter violent extremism has the potential to put you, your project, and your community in harm’s way. Many well-intentioned projects addressing sensitive issues such as VE have gone wrong because their designs were not conflict sensitive. Applying a conflict-sensitive approach is a vital step towards reducing any unintended consequences that could undermine your overall objectives and chances for positive impact.

What is Conflict Sensitivity?

Any project (whether it be development, humanitarian assistance, and/or peacebuilding) has the potential to support either conflict or peace. Therefore, to ensure conflict sensitivity, projects need to take steps to amplify their positive impact and minimize their negative impact. The “What” and “How” of  Conflict Sensitivity, as summarized by International Alert, is provided in the table below: 

The "What" and "How" of conflict sensitivity

What to do How to do it
Understand the context in which you operate. Carry out a conflict analysis and update it regularly.
Understand the interaction between your intervention and the context. Link the conflict analysis with the programming cycle of your intervention.
Use this understanding to avoid negative impacts and maximize positive impacts. Plan, implement, monitor, and evaluate your intervention in a conflict-sensitive fashion (including redesign when necessary).


What is Do No Harm?

The Do No Harm (DNH) approach is a conflict-sensitivity approach that is well suited to projects working in conflict settings. DNH can be integrated into most of the stages of a project cycle. The goal is not just to ensure your projects don’t fuel drivers of conflict or put you, your staff, and your beneficiaries at risk, but to ensure that your project strengthens connectors to prevent violent conflict or extremism.

The core of the Do No Harm framework is an analysis of dividers and connectors that damage or build relationships between groups. Dividers are sources of tension, mistrust, or suspicion in a community that have in the past or may in the future turn into intergroup conflict. They prevent positive relationships from taking place. Connectors are sources of cohesion and trust in a community. Connectors demonstrate the local capacities people have for peace and serve to enable positive relationships among diverse people.

Featured tool

Dividers and Connectors Tool

from CDA’s Do No Harm Workshop Training Manual

Overview of the tool

Key considerations
  • People cannot be dividers or connectors. While some people have an interest in warfare and can benefit from conflict, the things people say and do with and to one another are the dividers and connectors.
  • People aren’t necessarily good or bad. It’s their actions that can be positive or negative.
  • Not all connectors are positive. Sometimes the factors that connect people across conflict lines are hardships, trauma, or discrimination. Although we might not seek to support these factors through our project activities, they can sometimes bridge differences and create opportunities for collaboration.

SAVES is an acronym representing the five main categories of an analysis of dividers and connectors. The five categories are: 

Systems and Institutions:

Formal and informal structures that divide or connect people.

Attitudes and Actions:

Things that people say and do that divide or connect. 

Values and Interests:

Things people believe or prioritize that divide or connect. 


Memories of historical or recent events that divide or connect. 

Symbols and Occasions:

Public images or events that divide or connect. 

What are the universal lessons of Do No Harm?

The Six Lessons of Do No Harm 

The Do No Harm Project was a collaborative learning effort led by CDA Collaborative Learning Projects. Thousands of aid workers, donors, and communities shared their experiences of aid in the context of conflict. Based on collective experience, the following six lessons were seen to be universal: 

When a project of any kind enters a context, it becomes part of that context.
  • No project is seen as neutral by people in the context. 
All contexts are characterized by Dividers and Connectors.
  • We can analyze a context in terms of Dividers and Connectors.
  • This analysis is done better by teams. 
  • This analysis needs to be iterative, done on a regular schedule.
All projects will interact with both Dividers and Connectors, making them better or worse.
Projects interact with Dividers and Connectors through their organizational Actions and the Behaviors of staff.
  • All projects consist of both Actions and Behaviors.
  • Actions reflect the resources being brought by an organization into a context. 
  • Behaviors are introduced by the people bringing the resources.
The impact of a project lies in its details.
  • Impact can be understood by looking at the details, rather than the whole.
  • By analyzing the details of an intervention, we can determine how Actions and Behaviors impact the context.
There are always Options.
  • Options grow out of understanding our Actions and Behaviors.
  • Generating options is done better by teams.
How to Apply a Conflict-Sensitive Approach

A conflict-sensitive approach is valuable during each phase of the project cycle (Assess, Design, Implement, M&E, and Learn). Use the DNH framework during the Assess phase to identify connectors and dividers, during the Design phase to identify possible negative impacts or possible entry points for project activities, and during Implementation to regularly assess and understand Dividers and Connecters and how they interact with your project. Finally, apply the framework when monitoring, evaluating, and generating learning from your project to examine if the project is causing unintended negative impacts.  

To get yourself started assessing Dividers and Connectors, we recommend following the framework in these two worksheets. 

Dividers and Connectors Assessment

Dividers and Connectors Assessment Worksheet
This worksheet provides a comprehensive framework for analyzing Dividers and Connectors in your project context according to the SAVES framework.


Rapid Dividers and Connectors Assessment Worksheet

This worksheet will help you go through this analytic exercise. You can still use Worksheet 2 to record your answers.

After using the worksheets above to prioritize the most relevant Dividers and Connectors in your project context, consider the following questions in the Design phase: 

  • How can these Dividers or Connectors be changed? In other words, what are ideas to decrease/prevent those Dividers and ideas to increase/support those Connectors?
  • What can your team do to have a positive impact? What are you doing that is having, or could have, a negative impact? Why is that negative impact happening? What can you change to affect the impact? Understanding actions and behaviors will help inform your implementation strategy (discussed further in the Implement Module).
  • What options and opportunities are linked to the indicators you developed in Step 2 during the Dividers and Connectors assessment in the Assess Module?
  • How will you monitor changes caused by your project? This will help inform your monitoring and evaluation strategy (discussed further in the M&E Module).
  • If a change does not occur, do you have another option? Do you have a process for learning why a change has not had the impact you expect? This will help inform your learning plan (discussed further in the Learn Module).
Dividers and Connectors Prioritization Exercise

Dividers and Connectors Prioritization Worksheet
This worksheet will guide you through this exercise. 

In addition to those practical exercises, the  Conflict Sensitivity Consortium provides a useful overview of how to think about integrating conflict sensitivity into all aspects of your organization’s operating procedures and programming. These are included in the How to Guide to Conflict Sensitivity. 

This guide can be useful in assessing your organization’s approach to conflict sensitivity and in identifying potential areas for improvement. 

For more information on how to conduct a conflict-sensitivity capacity assessment, refer to the tool linked below.

Conflict Sensitivity Capacity Assessment

Conflict Sensitivity Capacity Assessment Worksheet

This worksheet will guide you through this exercise.