Inclusive Peace & Transition Initiative
Civil Society and Peacebuilding

Civil Society and Peacebuilding Project

Civil society is seen as an important actor in peace processes. As such, substantive efforts have been devoted by development and peace actors towards building and strengthening it. However, little systematic evidence-based research existed to support these assumptions empirically, and provide policy makers and practitioners with better knowledge about whether, how, when, and under what circumstances civil society can fulfil a peace supporting role or not.

The “Civil Society and Peacebuilding” project (2006-2010), under the lead of Dr. Thania Paffenholz, analyzed the performance of civil society with regard to seven peacebuilding functions in four phases of conflict and peace processes. The research framework examined the context, relevance, and impact of these functions on peace processes. 

© U.S. Institute of Peace, Casey Johnson

Key findings

  • The impetus for peace comes from political actors, mostly conflict parties
  • Nevertheless civil society plays an important supportive role
  • The practical relevance of different civil society functions varies tremendously in different phases of the conflict
  • There is a mismatch between the relevance of functions and the frequency with which these are actually performed and supported
  • Even relevant functions do not always have optimal impact due to design and context factors
  • Key context factors include the behaviour of the state, level of violence, role of the media, composition of civil society, and involvement of regional and international political actors and donors
  • Donors should consider what civil society actors and functions are appropriate in a given context, and link operational with political support in order to increase impact


  1. Protection of citizens against violence from all parties;
  2. Monitoring of human rights violations, the implementation of peace agreements, etc.;
  3. Advocacy for peace and human rights;
  4. Socialization to values of peace and democracy as well as to develop in-group identity of marginalized groups often via peace education;
  5. Inter-group social cohesion by bringing people together from adversarial groups often in dialogue projects;
  6. Facilitation of dialogue at the local and national level between all sorts of actors;
  7. Service delivery to create entry points for peacebuilding, i.e. for the six functions listed above.


  • Afghanistan
  • Bosnia-Herzegovina
  • Cyprus
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Guatemala
  • Israel/Palestine
  • Nepal
  • Nigeria
  • Northern Ireland
  • Somalia
  • Sri Lanka
  • Tajikistan
  • Turkey (Kurdish conflict)