Training the Next Generation

Training the Next Generation

Over the last twenty years, I’ve spent most of my time as a peacebuilding practitioner. However, I recently found myself spending more time in academia again. That got me thinking about how the ways we train young peacebuilding professionals affects the field and vice versa. Musings turned into serious thinking when I was asked to write an introductory textbook on conflict resolution and peacebuilding. It really got serious when I was asked to blurb Agniezka Paczynska and Susan Hirsch’s new book,


In that wonderful edited volume which I’ve reviewed elsewhere, they review the ethical and practical problems that arise when we take students into the field for practical training in becoming a peacebuilder. We have to do that, of course, because they have to learn how to build peace, and that can’t be done solely in the classroom.

As I read the manuscript and then at their book launch ten days ago, I was reminded of Mary Anderson’s use of the Hippocratic Oath in urging peacebuilders to “do no harm.” But the more I thought about the subject, the more I realized that her invocation was not enough and that my colleagues at George Mason University’s School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution had gotten at some — but by no means all — of the issues.

As they point out, there are major ethical and practical issues involved. How do we get our students to become culturally sensitive?

But that got me thinking about at least two other issues that I’ve focused on because I spent a fair amount of time with physicians and mental health professionals. Their training includes three things we sorely lack in peacebuilding education.

First, they get extended periods of applied training. Physicians spend years in internships and residencies. In fact, their practical training begins the day they arrive in medical school. Clinical psychologists do not spend as much time in the equivalent of a residency, but they do have to spend time under supervisions and — perhaps more importantly for our purposes — undergo therapy themselves. As my wife points out, we don’t expect conflict professionals to have any real training in how they deal with conflicts in their own lives which is a minimal equivalent of therapists spending time in therapy themselves.

Second, they have to be certified and take further education training courses to keep their certifications current. My medical professional colleagues often chafe at the rules governing certification or the fact that some recertification courses feel like a waste of their time. But, the fact of the matter is that our field has few common standards that professionals are required to master. Efforts to move toward licensure, for example, are usually resisted — and resisted strongly. Most major peacebuilding NGOs do provide the equivalent of inservice training for their staffs, but rarely does that reach the level of continuing education one finds in the health professions.

Mary Anderson

Finally, the health care professions give at least lip service to the notion that practitioners have to continually learn, monitor and assess their work, and adapt to a world in which change is the only constant. Peacebuilders are just beginning to take monitoring and evaluation seriously. Many of us have resisted those efforts, including me for more time than I care to admit!

In the end, continuous training is but the beginning. We need it to keep our skills up and to remind us of the ethical implications of our work, that start but certainly do not end with do no harm. When done right, ongoing training could and should lead to something even more important a mindset that puts a premium on curiosity and humility.

Originally published at Chip Hauss.