Stabilization & Development:

Getting to Local, Long-term Solutions

December 15, 2009

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An insurgency has been raging for some time and threatens to extend beyond its borders, drawing an entire region into conflict. The U.S. Government, led by the State Department, USAID, and the Defense Department debates how to address the situation. What role should the military and civilian nation-building experts play in this explosive geo-political environment? Who will care for refugees, disarm combatants?

Creative’s Richard “Dick” McCall and James “Spike” Stephenson are now supporting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in developing a web and CD based training tool to prepare soldiers for the complex challenges faced by failed and failing states. These virtual training scenarios, which can be used anytime and anywhere, are intended to “broaden the thinking process” of those on the ground or about to be deployed.

McCall and Stephenson are working with Creative’s Center for Stabilization & Development under contract to APTIMA, a Boston-based firm specializing in human performance and user-centered technology and training systems. McCall and Stephenson’s combined experience extends from helping negotiate peace between the government and the guerrillas in El Salvador to mediating between the Hutus and the Tutsis in Rwanda and developing the groundwork for the stabilization of Iraq.
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Both advisors share a strong belief that engaging local populations is the critical factor in deploying U.S. personnel and money to help people secure stability and sow the seeds for development in their nations. “All of us are fairly critical of recent interventions which have been top down,” said Stephenson, who led the U.S. Agency for International Development Mission in Baghdad from 2004-2005. McCall, who chairs Creative’s Council of Senior Advisors, added “Those who undertake these operations need to be flexible to address local dynamics on the ground and have an inherent understanding of the situation so as to recognize what adjustments need to be made that will reflect the local reality.”

The complexity of stabilization and reconstruction has tested the efforts of various U.S. agencies for decades. Interventions have yielded mixed results. Frequently, coordinating the work of various agencies has bedeviled these efforts, resulting in misaligned resources and even, at times, doubling of efforts.

In the past few years, many have debated which parts of the U.S. interagency should take the lead in these efforts. But, McCall and Stephenson emphasize that deploying skilled and experienced individuals with the right tools and strategies is what really matters in making the transition to a stable civil society that delivers long-term results. “There is a need for actually having a strategy rather than just throwing dollars at people,” said Stephenson. “There is a need to use conflict analysis tools before you develop a strategy. This is difficult but there has to be a process and you cannot use people without any background or, experience to do that kind of work. Practitioners must be highly specialized. It’s folly to think you can describe the process and choose anyone to implement the plan.”

McCall underscores the value of working with local stakeholders to combine resources and develop long-term solutions: “What is unique is realizing that there is social capital in communities,” said McCall. “We’re not proving anything to ourselves, but are proving to local populations themselves that they can manage their communities—this is the real way to build democratic practices. What you need to do in these situations is to mobilize social capital.”

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