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Beyond the Tracks? Reflections on Multitrack Approaches to Peace Processes

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Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue
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Julia Palmiano Federer, Julia Pickhardt, Philipp Lustenberger, Christian Altpeter, Katrina Abatis

Executive Summary

In order to address the multi-level nature of contemporary conflicts, peace practitioners have sought to conceive – and deal with – peace processes that encompass initiatives on different societal levels (or “tracks”), ranging from community-based peacebuilding to high-level negotiations. Multitrack approaches can be understood as a way of considering different peacebuilding initiatives taking place at different levels of society, with the intention of leveraging the positive impact of linkages between initiatives, while preventing or mitigating negative impact. Since the 1990s, the logic of multitrack approaches has become salient in theory and practice. After an overview of existing theoretical concepts and policy developments around multitrack approaches to peace processes, this report presents insights and analyses from peace practitioners, and assesses how multitrack approaches reflect the complexities of today’s peace processes. In doing so, the report draws from a retreat with practitioners involved in dialogue, negotiation and mediation initiatives in Colombia, Myanmar, Syria,
Ukraine and Zimbabwe.

Initially, the notion of ‘tracks’ comes from the field of diplomacy. “Track Two diplomacy” was used to describe an alternative to official “Track One” interactions between official representatives. During the 1990s, Diamond and McDonald presented a “multitrack diplomacy” framework with nine tracks and Lederach developed his transformative model, featuring a pyramid with three system levels: top leadership (Track I), middle-range leadership (Track II) and grassroots leadership (Track III). The Lederach model has inspired many peace practitioners, resulting in the growing salience of multitrack approaches as a way to promote peace in a “holistic and inclusive fashion” (Dudouet, Eshaq et al. 2018, p. 183). The logic and language of multitrack approaches have also influenced the policies of international organisations and governments.

The impact and effectiveness of multitrack approaches have not been systematically examined. Despite the common assumption that linking initiatives within and across levels of society creates beneficial outcomes, little attention has been paid to how to create linkages in practice and what kind of impact these linkages generate. While linkages often create positive impact – such as information-sharing, consensus-building or increased ownership – sometimes linking initiatives, especially across levels of society, generates negative impact. Trying to link initiatives upwards towards high-level, political negotiations may not always be the best fit.

The report presents five main points for reflection:

Questioning what is behind the terms and concepts: Despite constant references to the mainstream terms and conceptual models, there is little common understanding about these terms and models. Peace practitioners need to be aware of the different ways in which these terms are understood and clarify the way they are used in relation to multitrack approaches to peace processes.

Building sustainable peace requires working at various levels of society: A variety of initiatives at different levels of society, with different objectives and timeframes, are needed to build sustainable peace. Therefore, national and international peace practitioners need to acknowledge the existence of a multitude of initiatives, and aim to ensure complementarity among them.

Considering effective contributions to sustainable peace: Dialogue, negotiation and mediation initiatives can make important contributions to building sustainable peace at different levels of society, independently of formal linkages to peace processes, for example, by creating horizontal linkages in a polarised society. Often there is only limited consideration of different theories of change in the design of peace processes.

Fostering positive linkages between initiatives within and across different levels of society: When useful, a multitrack approach to a peace process fosters linkages between initiatives – horizontally within a level of society and vertically across levels of society. It is important to consider clearly what the purpose of fostering a particular linkage is, and how it should be done.

Linking initiatives and actors must be done in a conflict-sensitive way: Different initiatives may have a positive or negative impact on each other. Therefore, it is essential to consider sensitivities around a conflict, based on an in-depth conflict analysis, when promoting linkages between different initiatives.

Considering the multifaceted nature of conflicts, peace processes need to be viewed comprehensively to understand how initiatives at different levels of society, and their linkages, can foster change to support sustainable peace. Taking into consideration these initial reflections on when – and how to – leverage multitrack approaches, peace practitioners and scholars are invited to comment on this report in order to contribute to clarifying concepts and providing practical guidance on multitrack approaches to peace processes.