Prevention of Violent Extremism

The need for conflict sensitivity and a peacebuilding systems approach

Many donors and development, peacebuilding, and humanitarian policy makers and practitioners are concerned with how their engagements interact with dynamics related to violent extremism – and how those relate to other dynamics of violent conflict, organized crime, or other forms of political violence. They struggle to design programming in contexts with high levels of violent extremism that effectively addresses the drivers of violent. Few systematic assessments or evaluations exist that examine the impact of PVE programming on larger conflict systems, and many theories of change are at best untested.   The PVE agenda also brings with it a complex set of ethical dilemmas and risks – for donors, implementers, local partners and beneficiaries –  that development and peacebuilding practitioners need to consider.

CDA’s lessons and experiences on what works and what doesn’t in peacebuilding, conflict sensitivity/Do No Harm, and accountability to local partners and communities are of critical importance to the PVE agenda.

The deadly unintended consequences of efforts to “counter” violent extremism highlight the critical need, not only for a much more sophisticated understanding of local contexts, but to rethink the fundamentals of international engagements in fragile and conflict-affected states – beginning with a much more sophisticated understanding of local context, and a consistent application of peacebuilding and conflict-sensitivity principles.


May 23-24: Conflict sensitivity as it relates to the intended and unintended impacts of PVE programming. CDA’s Anita Ernstorfer presents and discusses the topic at the second global meeting on Preventing Violent Extremism organized by the UNDP Oslo Governance Centre in partnership with the Government of Norway. Watch a video of the presentation.

May 30: Go/No Go decision-making in relation to PVE/CVE work. CDA’s Anita Ernstorfer and Catholic Relief Services’ Aaron Chassy presents a synthesis of joint CDA-CRS research on PVE at the Alliance for Peacebuilding CVE working group, and focus on a Go/No Go decision-making process.

Recent Work

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CDA is keen to apply its collaborative learning approach to advance the effectiveness of PVE approaches. We are open to working with partners in collaborative learning and advisory capacities – and are also looking for new funding and partnerships in this area.

CDA’s key areas of interest include:

  • Testing of existing PVE theories of change
  • Strengthening the evidence base on what works and what doesn’t in PVE
  • Understanding community resilience to PVE
  • Providing guidance to peacebuilding and development policy makers and practitioners on how to engage with the PVE agenda and programming – and what not to do
  • Advising donors and funders in ‘getting it right’ in PVE

CRS engaged CDA in a research initiative to help us think through and sharpen our organizational approach to Preventing/Countering Violent Extremism (P/CVE), an approach to addressing violent conflict that has increasingly supplanted more reflective approaches to peacebuilding in the public donor-funded programming landscape.

We found CDA to be excellent learning partners in this process. As lead researcher, Anita Ernstorfer brought considerable depth and breadth of understanding to this topic, which allowed us off to a get a running start on the research and to maintain a clear focus within a P/CVE field where claims of effectiveness remain largely unsupported by evidence. Her approach was equally rigorous, methodologically sound and flexible enough to include a variety of lines of inquiry. She and CDA were also highly respectful and affirming of our stated desire to explore how to approach P/CVE programming in a way that aligned with our organizational values and principles.

Based on the report and recommendations CDA produced, we are now able to situate ourselves in the P/CVE landscape from a well-informed, evidence-based, principled perspective. We are using the final product to guide our decision-making about related programming opportunities.

– Aaron Chassy, Technical Director for the Equity, Inclusion and Peacebuilding (EQUIP) team and Nell Bolton, Senior Technical Advisor for Justice & Peacebuilding at Catholic Relief Services (CRS)

Contact Us

We’d love to hear from you! Contact CDA staff at [email protected]