Here are our 10 tips and recommendations how to build peace in 2016.

The year is coming to an end. Time to reflect on what we learnt - and what challenges lie ahead of us. What’s at stake for mediators and conflict resolution professionals in 2016? How shall we respond to new threats and conflicts? And most importantly, how can Europe play a more active role in preventing and resolving conflicts around the world?

By Martin Griffiths, Elena Marda, Antonia Potter Prentice, Ivan Shalev, Peter Brorsen, Maria Chalhoub, Monique Van Es, Evan Tyner, Stine Lehmann and Andreas Müllerleile

I. Preventive diplomacy

The refugee crisis has been one of the main stories of 2015. Europe’s politicians argued about quotas and how to secure borders. We asked ourselves a slightly different question. How can we tackle root causes before a conflict breaks out? How can we prevent conflicts that always produce migrant flows? We think preventive diplomacy may be part of the answer. We think that preventive diplomacy is modern diplomacy. It's a combination of early warning and creative approaches to prevention and diplomacy. However, there is no single strategy to do successful preventive diplomacy; it can include reviewing peace agreements, ensuring a smooth power transition or making sure election outcomes are not used as a justification for violence – the aim is simple: preventing an outbreak of a violent conflict. In other words: It may be time to invest in preventive diplomacy.

II. Engaging extremists

The rise of Daesh/ISIS in the Middle East showed the world that a combination of power vacuums, failed states and wars tends to create new kinds of threats. The question is how to deal with these new extremist groups that combine radical ideologies with professional military strategies? We are faced with an old dilemma: Do we need to negotiate with terrorist groups? Mediation is the art of talking to all parties involved in a conflict. It may be time to revisit this tradition - and add the 'art of dialogue' not only to EU foreign policy but also to Europe's counter-terrorism toolbox.

III. Peace begins at home

Terrorism has returned to Europe. The Paris attacks were a stark reminder that we shouldn’t take peace for granted. But we need to understand that peace begins at home – and building peace at home has a lot to do with inequalities, missing opportunities and a lack of trust in political processes. In the coming years Europe will face a number of societal challenges: How to deal with populists? How to manage the integration of refugees? What to do about the emergence of right wing extremists? How to respond to religious extremism? (to name just a few) At the same time, Europe’s role in the world is increasingly defined by how we deal with problems at home. The EU likes to portray itself as a peace actor, it wants to set a good example for the world. But is Europe really leading by example?

IV. Coordination deficit

Conflict resolution has become a crowded field. Solving a (violent) conflict is a noble cause and it is thus no surprise that a plethora of organisations want to help build peace: from International organisations, various aid agencies and traditional diplomatic actors to NGOs, military experts and private organisations. However, time and again this situation not only results in a duplication of efforts but also in a failure to learn from mistakes of others. Sometimes this even creates a degree of mistrust among institutions in the field. So, despite all those good intentions we are faced with a serious coordination deficit among conflict resolution practitioners. How can we address this problem in 2016?

V. Quality of mediation

Over time, many professions – for example law, medicine or teaching - have evolved from informal bodies of knowledge into recognised vocations. Through this process of evolution, the different professions also introduced the means to test practitioners to ensure their comprehension of the associated body of knowledge, their adherence to certain criteria, standards and policies and their ability to demonstrate relevant skills. However, the art of conflict mediation has not yet gone through the same evolution. This needs to change. In 2016 we should start a process of professionalisation that not only safeguards and improves the quality of mediation but also provides much needed answers to difficult questions about the accountability of mediators.

VI. Open Source Peace Tech

How to use tech for peace is one of the recurring questions at EIP. It is indeed one of the biggest challenges we face in the future. We have not yet learned how to deal with the democratisation of information in areas of contested governance. We have moved from communicating one to one (letter), over one to many (broadcast), and now to many to many (social media). Peace making is only slowly adjusting to the disruptive effects of global information networks that have already transformed e.g. commerce (online shopping), education (e-learning), or warfare (cyberwar). In 2016 the peace tech community needs to carefully look at these challenges. We need to rethink how to scale up pilot projects and it may be time to look at the open source community for inspiration: They may be able to teach us how to scale up projects and how to design an inclusive and participatory process that creates a common good.

VII. New questions

2015 has been a big ticket year for issues of inclusion and gender because of the 15th anniversary of UNSCR 1325, a landmark resolution that acknowledges the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women and girls. We now have stacks of arguments and proof about when, why, where and how it helps to broaden participation in peace processes and in particular to recognise women’s agency in a meaningful way. So, what we would like to see in 2016 is a new trend in flipping the old questions on their head. When someone asks us “but why should we make this process more inclusive at this delicate stage” let’s ask “why wouldn’t we broaden participation in this process at this critical moment?” - and then let’s really appraise the reasons why; when the parties or key power players say “I guess we don’t object to having some women in the room, but what value does this actually add to the process at this stage, given what we’re discussing?”, let’s ask them “what value does it add to have a process exclusively comprised of men who all have a stake in the game?”.

VIII. Reinventing international negotiation processes

Mediators know the importance of how to design and organise complex political negotiations. A lot of thought is going into how to increase the quality of those processes, how to improve legitimisation of the negotiations and how best to support mediators. Other multilateral negotiation formats should learn from peace processes when it comes to the quality of those negotiations. In 2015 many of the big political stories were linked to how negotiations were conducted. We saw a 2 week negotiation marathon at COP21 or the conclusion of the Iran deal after a decade long negotiation process - but we also analysed the flaws during the Greek crisis and worried about the lack of transparency in negotiations of trade agreements. In all these cases the design of the process had an impact on the outcome. The question is whether our multilateral institutions are still fit for purpose. Inter-governmental decision-making is likely to become more complex, involving a range of different actors. For example, there will be demands for increased transparency by citizens, there will be questions about participation, representation and inclusion, we may also need to think about how much time is needed to reach a deal, and we need to carefully think about the implementation phase and potential side effects. Professionalisation of the negotiations field may ameliorate the quality of the dialogues, regardless of the topic at hand, and most importantly, it will increase chances for citizens to be part of these negotiations.

IX. Moving beyond interests

Recent tragedies within Europe challenge our understanding of peace and security. European citizens will need to learn to ask the types of questions that mediators and diplomats usually ask. Not ‘what is my position and how do l oppose yours?’, but ‘what are our common interests and how do we jointly face the problem?’ Instead of asking ‘how our interests contradict each other?’ we need to focus on whether ‘our needs are mutually exclusive’.

X. The European way

Europe is seen in many parts of the world as a fair arbiter, as a continent as much impelled by principles as by interests. But this is Europe's strength – not its weakness. Fairness and inclusiveness are core elements of how Europe conducts its foreign policy. We should remind ourselves that our values often define our interests. Europe’s political DNA should inspire us to find fair compromises – inside and outside Europe. Let's be more optimistic. We need to strengthen our belief in our own abilities to create change. In 2016 Europe needs to show the world that a European way can deliver innovative and creative solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.