Integrating Conflict Sensitivity in Project Management into Inclusive Systems Development Framework 

Swisscontact in Cambodia embarks upon a preliminary assessment to systematically integrate Conflict Sensitivity in Project Management (CSPM) strategy and framework into their Innovation for Sustainable Agriculture (ISA) project. This experience marks the first steps towards integrating CSPM into the bigger Inclusive Systems Development framework.


Conflict is a natural part of change in any society. Therefore, proper understanding and management of conflict becomes important as it allows to actively curb any unintentional exacerbation of existing sensitive issues.

Echoing this need, in 2021, Swisscontact Cambodia embarked upon a preliminary assessment to systematically integrate Conflict Sensitivity in Project Management (CSPM) strategy and framework into their Innovation for Sustainable Agriculture (ISA) project. This initiative is a part of Swisscontact’s overall strategy to institutionalize conflict sensitivity in all its development programmes.

Integrating Conflict Sensitivity in Project Management in Swisscontact projects

The overall goal of this endeavor was to render Swisscontact projects in Cambodia more conflict sensitive, and to use the CSPM strategy and framework as both, i) an analysis framework, and ii) as a tool that serves to thoroughly understand the context with which, the projects are engaging. This two-pronged approach would entail that the project does not cause unintentional harm, cause new conflict, or exacerbate existing tensions. Furthermore, Swisscontact also recognizes that conflict or the potential for conflict are characterized by underlying tensions that could derive from issues such as social injustices or unequal access to resources and does not necessarily entail open or even armed conflict.

The ISA project currently applies the “do no harm” approach to conflict sensitivity, meaning that the project consciously looks for and seeks to avoid or mitigate negative impacts. Under Workstream 2 of the ISA Lab, Swisscontact in Cambodia hosted a student from the NADEL Centre for Development and Cooperation at ETH Zurich, to conduct the preliminary assessment on CSPM, through which a 3-step conflict sensitivity cycle developed by Swisspeace.

Swisspeace defines conflict sensitivity as the ability of an organization to:

  • understand the context in which it is operating in, in particular to understand inter-group tensions and the “divisive” issues with a potential for conflict, and the “connecting” issues with the potential to mitigate conflict and strengthen social cohesion,
  • understand the interaction between its intervention and that context, and
  • act upon that understanding, to avoid unintentionally feeding into further division, and to maximize the potential contribution to strengthen social cohesion and peace.

With this in mind, it is important to have a “conflict lens’ built into project management at the strategic, operational, organizational, or personal level so that conflict sensitivity is integrated in the planning, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation stages of any project cycle.

Three Step Conflict Sensitivity Cycle

Applying the Conflict Sensitivity cycle in ISA Project

The conflict sensitivity assessment for ISA project was conducted primarily using the three-step conflict sensitivity cycle framework with a few adaptations based on the needs of the project.

Under step 1

Understanding the Conflict context, the assessment focused on issues relevant for rural areas, in the four provinces where ISA is active, namely Battambang, Siem Reap, Kampong Thom and Preah Vihear provinces. To understand and identify the key elements of the conflicts, the project closely looked at the dynamics and potential underlying causes of the conflicts and identified connecting and dividing elements in society related to those issues. Furthermore, the project also analysed both the stakeholders involved in those conflicts and the stakeholders involved in ISA’s system and scrutinized the relationships among them.

This preliminary assessment successfully identified seven potential conflict contexts and other minor issues and conducted a stakeholder analysis and mapping to better understand the potential actors that could be involved in the conflict by analysing their role, agenda, and relationships. The seven identified conflict were 

  1. Land disputes
  2. Legal issues with ambiguous land titles
  3. Dispute over contamination with pesticides usage
  4. Competing for water
  5. Disputes over cattle grazing
  6. Issues with Microfinance
  7. Cover crop seeds viability and authenticity

Under step 2

Interaction between context and ISA, the assessment aimed to understand the interactions between the project’s interventions and the seven conflict contexts that were identified in step 1. Therefore, the assessment focused on analysing possible negative impacts that interventions can potentially have on the identified conflicts. Further analysis was also conducted to identify any possible negative impacts that the identified conflicts context can have on the project and the potential of the interventions to mitigate these conflicts. Furthermore, the framework also took into account the three dimensions namely, 

  • the organization, Swisscontact
  • the, project, Innovation for Sustainable Agriculture (ISA)
  • the partners of ISA

Therefore, the assessment also took a closer look at Swisscontact in Cambodia as an organization by analysing organizational policies and manuals, and analysed project partners including public sector, private sector, research institutions and universities, and donor agencies.

This step helped the project to narrow down the seven identified conflicts to five as these had a much more intricate relationship with the project. These five conflicts included: 

  1. Land disputes and land titles issues
  2. Cattle over grazing issues
  3. Water allocation issues
  4. Cover Crop production and viability issues, and
  5. Issues of indebtedness

Under Step 3

The Project Programme Options and Adaptations was re-framed as Recommendation for Strategy Development. After having identified the potential conflicts, preliminary recommendations for adjustments to the interventions were made and knowledge gaps were identified. However, further analysis and field assessments are still required to identify accurate, realistic, and concrete measures that can be adopted in the intervention plans.

"ISA through its unique intervention design is not very strongly affected by those issues. Even though there are some minor tensions present within the scope of ISA’s interventions, we can say that ISA is not creating any harm in its system and the adjustments that need to be made are minimal."
The preliminary assessment concluded with the following assessment.

Next Steps

The experience from the CSPM analysis for Innovation for Sustainable Agriculture project provided a good starting point for Swisscontact in Cambodia to embark upon a more comprehensive strategy to integrate CSPM framework into the overall Inclusive Systems Development approach. The crux of this initiative will be to integrate CSPM component in project design, implementation, and monitoring stages of Swisscontact’s development programmes to ensure that these projects not only curb unintentional exasperation of existing issues, but with proper understanding and management, are able to bring about a positive change.

Innovation for Sustainable Agriculture (ISA) project is financed by the Happel Foundation, the Symphasis Foundation, and the Leopold Bachmann Foundation among other donors. As part of the Swisscontact Development Programme, it is co-financed by SDC (Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA).