Inspiring CoCooN Conference on conflict sensitivity

On 27 November 2015, the CoCooN Conference revealed what the six research projects in the CoCooN programme can teach us about conflict and cooperation over natural resources in developing countries. The focus of the conference was the sensitivity of policymakers to conflicts around these natural resources. What strategies can be developed to increase their conflict sensitivity? This was tackled by sessions on policy sensitiveness in the morning and on the CoCooN-approach in the afternoon.

CoCooN is about bringing research and policy together. One of the challenges researchers face is how to make their work more relevant and useful. They can have an impact by investigating practical social issues and addressing policymakers. Within CoCooN, academics worked with NGOs to cross the bridge towards policymaking and address policy-relevant issues. NGOs and activists on the other hand could help them to reach out and support their strategies with scientific evidence – eventually aimed at developing more conflict sensitive practices and policies around natural resources.

Opening remarks and panel discussion

Did you know? Danielle Hirsch (Both ENDS), Dirk-Jan Koch (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands), Marti Orta - Martinez (ISS Erasmus university – NEBE), Alexandra Uran Carmona (Universidad de Antioquia in Medellín, Colombia - Gomiam) and V. Vivekanandan (South Indian Federation of Fishermen Societies (SIFFS) - Reincorpfish) contributed to the panel discussion

Picture: Maartje Strijbis

Jacqueline Cramer – chair of the steering committee – opened the conference by introducing the Conflict and Cooperation over Natural Resources in Developing Countries (CoCooN) knowledge, research and innovation programme. At the following panel discussion was put forward that CoCooN delivered insights that could attribute a lot to a manual on conflict sensitiveness in the policymaking process at a local level. Danielle Hirsch of Both ENDS added to this that there are more examples of joint work by researchers and NGO’s that could be used. It was also stated that the CoCooN programme shows how on the ground information can help assess potential conflicts, for example by bringing together local groups around mutual interests.

How about the policy makers?

Picture: Maartje Strijbis

A few policymakers from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in The Hague, also venue of the conference, made statements during the day. Reina Buijs - director-general for international cooperation - emphasised the joint responsibility of researchers and policy makers to bring scientific evidence to widely accepted and implemented policies. A prerequisite is scientific output to be more communicative, because policymakers, like embassy diplomats, suffer from a chronicle lack of time. A way to deal with this is to keep it short and simple, suggested Marion van Schaik - senior policy advisor water & environment. But it was also commonly acknowledged that this alone would not do the trick. Dirk-Jan Koch - special envoy for natural resources - suggested that training courses and workshops for policy makers might help, arguing that they should learn to be more aware of possible drivers of conflicts when taking investment decisions.

Project findings presented

Picture: Maartje Strijbis

Furthermore, the six research projects presented their findings. According to them, a key requirement for conflict sensitivity is a supply of relevant information and analysis. Some of the other findings were:

  • conflicts need to be looked at from a multidisciplinary perspective, because they have different dimensions: political, legal and economical
  • a regional approach might be necessary because of the transnational mobility of people involved
  • a shift of regulatory and monitoring activities to the North might be more effective than local activities, or at least be complementary
  • current regulatory, monitoring and enforcement arrangements fail to protect local communities, we should make it easier for them to issue complains or start legal proceedings
  • formalisation of local communities might be more effective than oppressed legislation
  • we should realise there is a huge gap between the reality presented to policymakers in official reports and the reality on the ground
  • local people suffer from the negative impacts of extractive industries, but are also economically dependent on them; we could try offering an attractive economic alternative
  • the projects pointed out the importance of real-time on the ground information from the frontline to the process of policymaking and monitoring

More findings, as well as background information, can be found at the four blogs written on the conference by The Broker. 

A challenging Theory of Change

The afternoon started with a Theory of Change of the programme, presented and tested against the actual experiences of the project teams during the CoCooN Xchange that took place two days prior to the conference. The session focused on the approach for linking research and development policy and practice, referred to as the ‘CoCooN approach’. However, this approach is in fact central to other research programmes managed by NWO-WOTRO Science for Global Development, such as the programmes that are part of the current knowledge platforms. 

More tangible results expected

Picture: Maartje Strijbis

At the end of the day, CoCooN representatives from NGOs, the project leaders and policy representtaives were invited to join Ton Dietz for a closing discussion. The main conclusion was that there are many interesting findings, but that getting them communicated to the right places is not a completed job yet. In various occasions the projects have managed to inform and influence policymaking and their results could well be sources for more of these processes. In their last months, the project teams will put effort in demonstrating the insights that have been enhanced through their activities. Next to that, in which way the output of the projects has led to actual changes in policy and practice will have to become more visible. Not all results are tangible yet though, impact processes take time. However, the consortia and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will continue to cooperate on bringing about the contributions of the CoCooN projects as well as how they can feed back into Dutch policies.

Communication outlets (worth visiting!)



Picture: Maartje Strijbis