Robert Ricigliano: Making Peace Last

Heidi Burgess
Guy M. Burgess

May 2017

You can download this video from Vimeo for offline viewing.


Robert Ricigliano has written an excellent book entitled "Making Peace Last" that examines how complexity theory and systems thinking as applied to peacebuilding can help bridge the gap from micro interventions to "peace writ large" on the macro level.  This video explores the key aspects of his approach, particularly the SAT (Structure, Attitude and Transactional) Model and the PAL (Planning, Action Learning) approach to conflicts and conflict transformation. 


Full Transcript 

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Hi this is Heidi Burgess. I want to continue my discussion of our colleagues who have laid the path for work on systems and complexity approaches to peace building.

Today I want to talk about Robert Ricigliano and his book Making Peace Last.  The premise of this book is that while peacemaking itself is very difficult, even more difficult is making peace agreements last. 25% of wars are ended that end by negotiated settlement revert to war within five years. The purpose of the book is to try to help people understand how to prevent that problem.

Ricigliano starts by asking why isn't peacebuilding sustainable, and he has a number of factors that he thinks answer that question. Number one, we tend to approach peacebuilding linearly. In other words, thinking in terms of cause and effect is too simple. In addition, our interventions are micro-- they work around a table, involving just 10 or 20 people.  But that doesn't add up to macro results--meaning society-wide, billions of people, impact what he calls “peace writ large.”  In order to do better, we need a holistic approach to peacebuilding, which helps bridge the gap between micro interventions and macro effects.

What does he mean by holistic thinking and a holistic approach? Well, several things. It's important to see the whole system, not just parts of the system. To see interconnections between the different elements in the system. One must look at causality as a dynamic factor, not a linear one. So just because one element influences another element in a particular way, it does not mean it's always good to have that effect. Other factors may become more report important, additional factors may completely disappear. You have to look at the patterns of change over time.

The easiest way to do this, he thinks, is by drawing a system of conflict maps, similar to what was done in Peter Coleman's book The Five Percent.  In many of our classes, Guy and I also have students draw conflict maps, and this slide shows two of them. What you can see here is that each one of these pictures has a number of elements with causal arrows arrows in it. And these are just one of a number of slides that each of these maps have, that are put together to show a complex system of interrelationships.

Ricigliano also talks about what he calls the SAT model where S stands for structural elements, A attitudinal elements, and T transactional elements. These are the things that he suggests should be put on a map, because these are the things that tend to drive intractable conflicts. Structural elements are systems of institutions that are put in place to meet basic human needs. They include governance structures, organizational structures, business structures, social structures, the way that people are linked together according  to rules and laws, and policies that determine, in part ,what they do and what can be done.

Attitudes are norms, beliefs, values, relationships, and cooperation. I should also have competition in here. That also influence the way people interact. Attitudes also influence the way we interpret the world around us and the conflict itself.

Lastly transactional elements are conflict resolution, collaboration, relationship-building processes and skills that allow people to interact with each other, and with their attitudes with the structures in order to make the system change.

All of these things interact with each other. So even here is some complexity in a very simple conflict map, because there are interactions between all the structural elements, all the attitudinal elements, and all the transactional elements. 

Let me show you some more complex conflict maps. Here's one that was put together by a student of ours named Ryan Bullock on Afghanistan. This first map shows the structures of the Afghanistan conflict a number of years ago.

I should mention that Ricigliano tells folks to “listen to” or I say “study” the system and the system map, in order to understand what's going on and how best intervene.

So in this structural map, you can see lots of structures which are the blue boxes, which may or may not be too small for you to read --but they include factors involving rule of law and corrupt governance structures and inadequate social services, which are all structural elements that Bullock saw as driving the conflict in Afghanistan.

Bullock had a separate map for attitudes. The attitudes are the pink items and they include uncertainty, fear, and poverty. He puts corruption in there too –that was part of the structure, but he said it was  also part of attitudes. Other attitudes he listed were extremism, religion, shared history, ethnocentrism, the notion of one group's—Pashtun’s—superiority over other groups, are attitudes that are driving this conflict.

And lastly, there are transactions. I will note that Bullock has double-headed arrows in here, which, I should have noticed, but I didn’t when I made this power point. The problem was double-headed arrows is that they obscure feedback loops. But if you look at any arrow, for instance, the arrow going from a weak central government to a struggling economy. They interact and they influence each other, the weak central government is causing the economy to struggle, and the economy struggling weakens the central government. So that's actually a loop. So all of these double-headed arrows are actually what Peter Coleman and Rob and I would focus on  which is feedback loops, which are the fundamental element of a conflict map.

It is feedback loops that drive complex conflict structures that is different from a basic linear causal analysis of a conflict.  Ricigliano suggests that you stop thinking about solutions, which is a linear approach to problems, and rather talk about the Planning-Acting-Learning (PAL)model where you study the conflict structure, attitudes, and transactions on the map.  Then you plan an intervention that you think will work effectively based on--he doesn't say this, but I will-- Peter Coleman's notion of energy centers and actionable hubs.

You act in order to influence the system.  Then you monitor what happens, you learn from that monitoring, and then you plan a response. It's a continuous cycle. What that means, is that you replace linear thinking with systemic thinking and you create networks of effective action.

Now going back to the SAT model, you can look at the structural elements on a map and, if for instance, you looked at that map on Afghanistan, which said that there was a lot of corruption in governance and so you need governance reform. And it said the economy was weak, so you need economic reconstruction. There was weak or nonexistent rule of law, so we need to establish rule of law and you certainly need an Afghanistan security sector reform because the security sector really isn't operating effectively at all.

In terms of attitudes, you can use truth and reconciliation commissions to try to get beyond the atrocities of the past. Afghanistan may not be ready for that though, because the atrocities aren't in the past.  Then there is trauma healing. You might be able to do some of that for people who experienced traumas in the past, although clearly, the trauma still going on.  Dialogues and what he refers to as “peace camps” are approaches to try to get people to develop more peaceful and tolerant conflict resolution, and conflict attitudes.

Lastly the transactional elements that are important that have been used to some extent, but need to be used more, include such things as mediation, cease-fires, negotiation and confidence building measures.

 And all of these interact with each other. So the attitudinal interventions will influence the structural interventions, and both will influence the transactional interventions which will influence the transactions themselves, and the structures themselves, and the attitudes themselves. So the map is continuously changing!

That is why you need to have the planning-action-learning cycle continuously throughout the intervention process.

So here's a final summing up the implications of the SAT model and the PAL model for current peacebuilding practice. First of all, let's compare current linear assumptions about the way to do peacebuilding with systems-based assumptions.

  • In linear thinking, your goal is to find solutions to problems. With systems thinking, you're trying to nurture change from within the system. Why? Well, because systems aren't problems to be fixed. Rather, the systemic peacebuilding assessment is a way to listen to the system and watch what happens as it develops and changes the means to your goals.
  • In traditional linear peacebuilding, you try to predict and control change. In complex systems, you really cannot effectively predict what's going to happen. Rather, you need to listen to the system by doing a systemic peacebuilding assessment. Because no one controls the system, but you can use a PAL cycle to foster learning.
  • Current linear approaches to peacebuilding create preset and static benchmarks and if you don't meet those benchmarks, you are considered to have failed. So you probably will not get your funding renewed. A systems approach fosters learning through flexible and adaptable actions, and investment benchmarks. You realize that change is unpredictable. In order to maximize change for the better, you want to create both vertical and horizontal integrated networks-- a lot like going back to John Paul Lederach’s horizontal and vertical relationships in his peacebuilding pyramid--in order to maximize the possibilities for effective action.
  • Lastly, the current linear assumptions is people expect small projects and micro interventions to add up to macro impact. If you do lots of them, it is assumed, that will create a big change. But Ricigliano argues that this just doesn't happen. The only way it will happen is if you create this vertical and horizontal integration, and you make small changes which, he says, interact out throughout the system.

If you're interested in learning more about Ricigliano’s approach, I sincerely urge you to get his book Making Peace Last. Details about all it are found in the transcript of this video on the Beyond intractability and MOOS websites. Thanks!

Referenced Resources

Robert Ricigliano.  Making Peace Last. A Toolbox for Sustainable Peacebuilding. Routledge (May 2, 2012). 

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