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5 Tips to Ensure Inclusivity is a Cornerstone of the Program Design Process

DME for Peace
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United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 16: “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.”

Target 16.7: “Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels.”

Indicator 16.7.2: “Proportion of population who believe decision-making is inclusive and responsive, by sex, age, disability and population group.”

What is inclusivity in the context of the design process, and how can the design, monitoring, and evaluation community make sure that it is integral to their programs, projects, and activities? While contexts and circumstances -- and in turn resources, limitations, and opportunities -- certainly vary by location and over time, the following post aims to provide five general guidelines for working toward inclusivity that should be applicable, relevant, and plausible in most situations.

Defining ‘Inclusivity’ & Establishing Significance

A relatively common understanding of inclusivity in peacebuilding comes from former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s 2012 report, Peacebuilding in the Aftermath of Conflict: “the extent and manner in which the views and needs of parties to conflict and other stakeholders are represented, heard and integrated into a peace process” (A/67/499). More plainly, all individual and group opinions, interests, and needs--especially those of frequently marginalized populations--are considered in inclusive peacebuilding.

Before reviewing the five tips, it is worth establishing why inclusion is important in the peacebuilding context. Due to the immense complexity of peacebuilding, it cannot be effectively practiced if it is monopolized and exclusionary; the results would inevitably be illegitimate, unjust, unsustainable, and evaluations would be inaccurate. The objective of doing no harm when designing projects requires that all community members are included and protected. Moreover, inclusivity benefits the process because it is more likely to address the root causes of the conflict than if key stakeholders’ (i.e. marginalized populations) views were not examined (Ban, 2012).

Five Tips for Incorporating Inclusivity in Program Design

Tip #1: Work vertically with a bottom-up approach.

Vertically inclusive peacebuilding coordinates local and national efforts, whereas horizontal infrastructure and processes result in a damaging disconnect between the two levels. Local groups lack power and a voice in the peacebuilding process, particularly when the initiatives are started and led by elites, politicians, and major outside donors, This disconnect could also manifest itself in programming and messaging (Bhattarai, 2013).

While incorporating a few local stakeholders in an already-drafted program design may seem logistically simpler than a bottom-up approach, these “token” actors do not suffice to meet inclusivity requirements, and in turn the project will not be sustainable or have optimal results. Inclusivity is facilitated by starting with the existing local structures and building upon the capacity, ownership, and leadership of local community members, rather than basing the project beginnings on outside preconceptions (Bhattarai, 2013). The goal for program designers should be for the marginalized populations to not just be participants in or recipients of the project, but act in stakeholder, volunteer, and staff capacities as well (“On the Road”, p. 17). This method is effective for ensuring the affected population is involved in and contributes to the process from beginning to end.

Ultimately, program designs should avoid a top-down approach because it greatly increases the likelihood of citizens experiencing perceived or actual distance from the core process and decision-making. In contrast, working from the bottom-up guarantees local involvement and investment.

Tip #2: Communicate freely, share information, and encourage participation.

Facilitating communication, distributing information, and spurring participation are fundamental and basic, yet occasionally overlooked, guidelines. The DHF review of programs in Somalia and Timor-Leste found a common need for increased multi-level communication and information access. Processes may have been discussed, but the local actors did not necessarily have an active role in their creation and facilitation (Gruener et al., 2012). Thus, there is a need for a comprehensive approach to all of the elements; information sharing, open communication, and active participation will not each suffice independently to create inclusivity, but they are solid building blocks when combined properly. In essence, mere representation needs to be expanded to genuine exchanges and interactions.

An effective method to ensure all of these elements are accounted for is the twin-track approach, which this post presents in the context of disability inclusion. The idea is to develop programming with and for marginalized people while also encouraging mainstream inclusion by adjusting attitudes and behaviors (CBM, 2012). This information-sharing and awareness-raising approach has the potential to create a space where all parties feel comfortable to engage. The resulting dialogue could enhance social cohesion and national ownership and leverage the existing peacebuilding resources and knowledge (Ban, 2012).

While the emphasis on participation is relatively specific to local communities, the communication- and information-sharing ought to take place among the inter/national organizations and donor agencies as well. There should be coordination and consolidation for the programs to be most effective so as to avoid overlap or significant gaps in activities (Bhattarai, 2013).

Tip #3: Increase education and understanding between political leaders and citizens, train traditional leaders.

One requirement for making Tip #2 possible is education and understanding among political leaders, citizens, and traditional societal leaders (e.g. heads of clans or religions). Education could be formal or informal and address civic education to ensure that citizens understand how their government functions and the role they can have in it (Gruener et al., 2012). The resulting social engagement could potentially deter corruption, make public administrations more transparent, and improve service delivery (Ban, 2012). Moreover, traditional leaders should be equipped to have a seat at the leadership tables and understand all of the groups and their needs in their respective communities.

While the connections between political leaders and citizens need to be strengthened, these efforts need to be distinguished from statebuilding because they are distinct goals requiring different focuses and tactics. Peacebuilding and statebuilding efforts need to be balanced rather than conflated; statebuilding often focuses on building government capacity and institutions, thus facilitating the top-down approach that inclusive peacebuilding should avoid (Gruener et al., 2012). Because statebuilding diverts funds from more locally-based projects, they ought to parallel the peacebuilding efforts described above.

Tip #4: Intentionally incorporate youth and women in the process.

According to reports from Mr. Ban and DHF, youth and women are key marginalized groups to engage in the peacebuilding process (2012). To the same extent that recruitment of youth for violent purposes poses a significant security threat, including them in the peacebuilding processes and engaging them constructively could lead to significant contributions. Concerning including women in the peacebuilding process, “data on economic recovery highlight the positive impact of women’s engagement” (Ban, p. 11, 2012). Active involvement in civil society organizations and general inclusion in societal structures allows women to provide different perspectives.

Engagement could involve public decision-making in post-conflict governance and recovery. The success of these efforts will require that the factors contributing to these and other groups’ marginalization are identified early. Ultimately, there needs to be a space for marginalized groups to participate in dialogues and consult with stakeholders in a systematic and structured way.

Tip #5: Make all activities accessible.

Though accessibility as a requirement of inclusion is a self-evident element, its complexities are worth reviewing. Accessibility considerations may consist of overcoming language, physical, attitudinal, policy, or institutional barriers. For instance, if the design process is exclusively or largely held in a capital or metropolitan area that is not easily accessible for local communities, this creates an obstacle to their ability to contribute. The barriers may be addressed with the twin-track approach described in Tip #2, and could be required prior to beginning the design process.

More generally, participants and stakeholders should have access and an opportunity to express their feedback. The program design should have universally-sensitive indicators and the data should be disaggregated by the population groups, such as gender, age, and ethnicity, where applicable (“On the Road”, p. 24). Lastly, the necessary accommodations for all involved groups should be budgeted for to demonstrate commitment and make the inclusion practices possible.


In summary, inclusive peacebuilding requires a vertical and bottom-up approach, open communication and engagement, education and understanding among leaders and citizens, incorporation of marginalized communities, and universally accessible activities. When executed properly, it is a dynamic, feasible, and sustainable approach. Exclusion and inequalities threaten stable and long-term peacebuilding, and it is therefore necessary to build confidence among participating parties that using negotiation to achieve objectives is a viable alternative to violence. The earlier in the process that the commitment to inclusion is indicated, the more successful and effective undertaking will be.


Ban Ki-moon. (2012). Report of the Secretary-General: Peacebuilding in the aftermath of conflict. United Nations General Assembly Security Council. Retrieved from (link is external)

Bhattarai, M. (2013). Inclusive peacebuilding in Nepal: challenges and opportunities. Insight on Conflict. Retrieved from is external)

CBM. (2012). Inclusion Made Easy: A quick program guide to disability in development. Retrieved from (link is external)

Gruener, Person, & Smith. (2014). Inclusivity in Peacebuilding. Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation (DHF). Development Dialogue Paper no. 6. Retrieved from (link is external)

Interpeace. (n.d.). Inclusive Peacebuilding. Retrieved from (link is external)

WorldVision. (n.d.) Best Practices in Disability Inclusion. Retrieved from (link is external)

WorldVision. (n.d.) On the Road to Disability Inclusion: Integrating people with disabilities throughout the program cycle, Facilitator Manual. Retrieved from