Conflict early warning and early response (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 1195)

What kind of interventions have been and can be made and in what sectors have they been made effectively?



Identify examples of early warning systems to monitor fragile states at risk of violence and instability and cases of early or pre-emptive intervention in states at risk of descending into conflict and instability. What does the literature say about what kind of interventions have been/can be made; in what sectors have they been made effectively, and how?

Key findings

Lessons emerging from the literature include:

  • Linking warning and response: The biggest challenge for conflict early warning systems is that they have not yet been effectively transformed into a preventive response. Specific response plans must be developed as part of the early warning system.

  • Preventative interventions to reduce the potential for violence should: (i) address civil society; (ii) address the quality of policy-making decisions; (iii) reduce inequality between groups; (iv) develop legal standards; (v) develop regimes for controlling destructive weaponry; and (vi) develop development strategies that reduce poverty.

  • Preventative interventions can be made in a variety of sectors including: the economy, governance, diplomacy, the military, human rights, agriculture, health, education and journalism.

  • Early warning and response interventions are less effective if they fail to address the underlying causes of conflict. Early warning and response should be part of a wider peace infrastructure. Longer-term peacebuilding efforts are important for sustaining the peace, not just managing to avert violence.

  • Using local knowledge is crucial for early warning and response to be successful at the community level.

  • New technology has the potential to allow affected populations to be actively involved in data gathering and conflict prevention, although there are concerns about the digital divide and potential bias.

  • Effective conflict early warning and early response programmes have had: (i) accurate, consistent and timely information, from a wide range of sources; (ii) the ability to effectively monitor the changing conflict dynamics on multiple different levels; (iii) a good understanding of the local context and long-term trends; (iv) participation and ownership by a range of actors across the country; (v) involvement of local actors with good local knowledge leading to timely, sensitive and adequate responses to incidents, which built trust and confidence among actors involved at different levels; (vi) social cohesion at the community level and a will for peace on the part of the people involved; (vii) early warning linked to networks and mechanisms ready to design tailor-made response actions; and (viii) flexible systems to fulfil ongoing activities and respond to emergency issues.


Rohwerder, B. Conflict early warning and early response (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 1195). overnance and Social Development Resource Centre, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK (2015) 14 pp.

Conflict early warning and early response (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 1195)

Published 1 January 2015