Organizational Barriers to Peace: Agency and Structure in International Peacebuilding
Abstract: The peacebuilding literature agrees that international
peacebuilding should be sustained over several years and adapted to the specific
institutions and capacities in each post-conflict country. To do this IOs, INGOs, and
bilateral donors doing peacebuilding work would have to adapt their aims, approaches, and
programming to each country context and to changes in that context. ... read moreOrganizational theory
finds that this type of adaptation and learning is very difficult for most organizations.
This dissertation asks whether this holds true for peacebuilding organizations. Can IOs,
INGOs, and bilateral donors doing peacebuilding work adapt to and learn from a
post-conflict context? If so, why? If not, why not? This dissertation tests a hypothesis
that three characteristics - non-defensive and valid learning behavior, downward
accountability routines, and peacebuilding knowledge-laden routines and frames - are
necessary and jointly sufficient for an IO, INGO, or bilateral aid agency to take
significant and systematic action to reduce the gap between its peacebuilding aims and
outcomes in a post-conflict country. It tests this hypothesis with five diverse
organizations (two IOs, two INGOs, one bilateral donor) at six critical junctures in
Burundi's thirteen-year war-to-peace transition. One of these organizational case studies
falsifies this hypothesis, showing that while the three independent variables were
necessary and sufficient for consecutive adaptation over two critical junctures, they were
insufficient for the organization to sustain its relevance with Burundi's war-to-peace
trajectory over each of the six critical junctures. This dissertation then builds a new
typological theory from the five detailed ethnographic case studies that describes how the
three initial independent variables combine with three other factors - entrepreneurial
leadership committed to peacebuilding, readily available peacebuilding funds, and
organizational change processes - to achieve varying degrees of alignment with Burundi's
war-to-peace transition. The findings from this dissertation indicate that most IOs,
INGOs, and bilateral donors are likely to be unable to repeatedly adapt to big shifts in a
country's war-to-peace transition. The changes in the post-conflict context are too big
and happen too fast for most international actors to keep pace. The conclusion identifies
the factors that determine why different types of organizations adapt to differing
degrees. The least adaptive organizations had two characteristics in common: 1) incentive
structures that rewarded feedback to headquarters, not dialogue with the state or society
concerned (i.e., upward accountability), and 2) they did not believe that peacebuilding
was the most important thing that they were doing, but instead prioritized development
aims and programming (i.e., peacebuilding frame not predominant). The most adaptive
organizations, on the other hand, were 1) focused on peacebuilding as the most important
thing that they were doing in Burundi (i.e., predominant peacebuilding frame); 2) they had
teams that combined technical knowledge of the specific peacebuilding activity and local
knowledge of the specific institutions that the organization aimed to change (i.e.,
sufficient peacebuilding knowledge-laden routines); and 3) they were guided by
entrepreneurial leaders who were committed to peacebuilding and willing to coerce the
organization into pursuing its peacebuilding aims. To develop a fully specified
typological theory, the findings from this dissertation will be tested in other countries.
Nonetheless, interviews with headquarters staff, interviews with staff from other
organizations in Burundi, and document review indicate that the patterns observed with the
case study organizations provide at least part of the explanation for the behavior of the
larger universe of IOs, INGOs, and bilateral aid agencies engaged in peacebuilding in
different conflict-torn countries around the world.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Tufts University, 2012.
Submitted to the Dept. of Diplomacy, History, and Politics.
Advisor: Peter Uvin.
Committee: Antonia Chayes, and Karen Jacobsen.
Keywords: Political Science, and International relations.read less