Preventing Identity-based Violence

Innovating ways to reduce violent conflict between hostile groups

The Problem

Intercommunal conflict is only increasing in the world. According to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program, the frequency of ongoing inter communal conflicts increased from 2019 – to 2020. These conflicts have resulted in the destruction of lives and properties, wrecking of livelihoods, displacement of people, fear and trauma of millions of people. What is more, the continuation of violent conflict has been recognized as an obstacle to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. This has pushed policymakers to focus on preventing violent conflict more effectively.  

Many global efforts in peacebuilding are focused on addressing the structural causes of conflict and using existing program designs such as intergroup contact programming. However, lingering unresolved intergroup tensions and distrust that result from negative attitudes, perceptions, emotions, and behaviors about “the other side” help create the groundwork for intergroup violence and systemic discrimination.  

Two decades of research from social psychology and behavioral science point to the existence of innumerable subtle cues that can influence human decisions and actions. Such cues can include the social context — the actions, dispositions and perceived priorities of peer groups during a moment when a decision is made, for instance — as well as timing or frequency of behaviors, physical environment and others. Having contributed substantially to fields as diverse as health, education, criminal justice and financial literacy, similar insights have yet to meaningfully permeate the field of peacebuilding as applied in practice.

Karen Bernstein, Program Director

Vivian Khedari, PhD, Research Director and Chief Psychologist

Opeyemi Adeojo, Program Lead, Nigeria

Yumeka Hirayama, Program Associate

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Beyond Conflict
198 Tremont Street, Suite 453
Boston, MA 02116

Our Approach

Fundamentally, our peacebuilding initiatives are centered around engaging and partnering with local stakeholders, supporting local-level and community-based processes to augment reconciliation efforts and building capacities that help reduce support for violence. In collaboration with our local partners, our methodology is based on 3 phases: diagnose, design, and redefine.

DIAGNOSE

Through collaboration with our local partners and pilot testing our assumptions, we diagnose the cognitive, psychological, and behavioral factors that drive the specific conflict.

DESIGN

Through a locally-led process, we accompany our partners in designing behavioral change programs that address the identified conflict drivers. These programs aim at improving intergroup attitudes and behaviors to ultimately build and achieve lasting peace.

REDEFINE

We redefine the original problem using research findings to scale up programming and provide training and results to practitioners, policymakers, and decision-makers for better adoption of social and behavioral change factors in their contexts.

Spotlight Project: Decoding Dehumanization

In 2018, Nigeria was listed as one of the top ten countries at risk for mass violence on several watchlists. Since 1999, over 10,000 Nigerians have been killed in inter-religious clashes according to data from the U.S. State Department. Particularly in the Middle Basin and Northern Nigeria, lives have been lost, homes destroyed, and mosques and churches burned.

Over the past three years, we have held workshops with local partners and pilot testing surveys to diagnose the behavioral factors creating support for inter-religious violence in Nigeria. Using the knowledge acquired, we designed a radio program with Nigerian scriptwriters and then scaled up the intervention to integrate the storyline into a popular Nigerian TV drama, reaching 40 million people.

Learn more about the project here.