Inclusive Peace & Transition Initiative
Research Project - Civil Society and Peacebuilding

© U.S. Institute of Peace, Casey Johnson

Civil society is seen as an important actor in peace processes. As such, substantive efforts have been devoted 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 fulfill a peace support role or not.


The Civil Society and Peacebuilding research project (2006-2010) identified seven peacebuilding functions civil society can potentially fulfill. The research project analyzed both the relevance of civil society activities within its conflict contexts and how effective or ineffective such activities are in supporting peace processes. The analysis was conducted with regard to four different conflict phases: war, armed conflict, windows of opportunity for peace negotiations, and post-large-scale violence.

The civil society functions analyzed were:

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

Key findings

  • The impetus for peace comes from political actors, mostly conflict parties
  • Civil society plays an important supportive role
  • The practical relevance of different civil society functions varies 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 behavior 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


Civil Society and Peacebuilding: A Critical Assessment

Thania Paffenholz - Lynne Rienner Publishers - 2010

This groundbreaking collaborative effort identifies the constructive functions of civil society in support of peacebuilding both during and in the aftermath of armed conflict. 


Role of civil society in peace and transition processes

How can different civil society actors make effective contributions to peace and transition processes, in which phases and under what conditions?


IPTI Partners with SIDA in New Impact Local Peace Project

IPTI is partnering with SIDA on a new project aiming to identify innovative approaches to reach all areas of the peacebuilding sector and provide local CSOs with relevant tools.

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Civil Society’s Role in Monitoring and Verifying Peace Agreements: Seven Lessons from International Experiences

IPTI - January 2017

This report summarizes the available evidence about civil society’s role in monitoring and verification activities around the world in recent decades


Peacebuilding from Below: The Role of Local Civil Society in South Sudan

On 28 September, IPTI, LWF, WCC, and Finn Church Aid organized an event to discuss the role of grassroots civil society in South Sudan


Civil Society in Peace Processes at a Glance

IPTI - April 2016

Summary of a multiyear research project answering how, when, and under what circumstances civil society may fulfill a peace-supporting role