Do No Harm

The Local Capacities for Peace (LCP) Project was formed in 1993 in order to help aid workers find ways to address human needs in conflict contexts without making the conflict worse. NGOs, experts, donors, and policy makers collaborated through the project to identify common patterns of interaction between aid and conflict. CDA aimed to support efforts to prevent the inadvertent and unintentional negative impacts of aid on conflict.

CDA developed a framework for analyzing the impacts of aid on conflict—and for taking action to reduce negative impacts and maximize positive impacts. The “Do No Harm Framework” came from the experiences of people participating in CDA consultations and feedback workshops.

In order to further the spread of the knowledge gained by the project, CDA detailed the framework and its use in Do No Harm: How Aid Can Contribute to Peace—or War by Mary B. Anderson.  With the release of the book, the Local Capacities for Peace Project became the Do No Harm Program.

The Do No Harm Framework for Analyzing the Impact of Aid on Conflict

Do No Harm is a leading tool for the application of conflict sensitivity. Conflict sensitivity recognizes that aid, whether development, peacebuilding, or humanitarian assistance, has the potential to support either conflict or peace. Practicing conflict sensitivity enables an organization to:

  • Understand the context in which it is operating
  • Understand the interaction between the intervention and the context
  • Act upon that understanding, in order to avoid negative impacts and maximize positive impacts on the conflict.

Conflict sensitivity does not require that all organizations focus on conflict and peace issues. Rather, it insists that all organizations and actors consider the unintended consequences of their programs on the relationships between groups of people in the context, and act to address those consequences.

Six Lessons of Do No Harm

The Do No Harm Project was a collaborative learning effort led by CDA; thousands of aid workers, donors, and communities shared their experiences of aid in conflict. Based on collective experience, the following six lessons were seen to be universal:

  1. When an intervention of any kind enters a context, it becomes part of that context.
  2. All contexts are characterized by Dividers and Connectors.
  3. All interventions will interact with both Dividers and Connectors, making them better or worse.
  4. Interventions interact with Dividers and Connectors through organizational actions and the behavior of staff.
  5. The details of an intervention are the source of its impacts.
  6. There are always options.

Applying Do No Harm helps organizations to become more effective, accountable and efficient. It supports effectiveness by encouraging organizations to tailor their interventions to the specific contexts in which they are implemented. It supports accountability by requiring that an organization respond to any unintentional negative impacts created by its intervention, and by encouraging local voices and priorities in programming. It supports efficiency by helping implementers to foresee and prevent unintended negative impacts, so that plans can be implemented more smoothly, and with more support from local communities.

Do No Harm uses the straightforward concept of Dividers and Connectors to analyze the intergroup relationships in the context where an intervention is implemented. Dividers are factors that create division or tension. Connectors are factors that pull groups together, or help them to coexist in constructive ways. In contexts of intense conflict, Connectors are sometimes difficult to see – and yet they always exist.


Do No Harm also analyzes how an intervention affects the Dividers and Connectors, yielding predictable patterns of impact through Actions (of organizations) and Behaviors (of staff). Finally, DNH recognizes that there are always Options for adapting a program to improve its impact on conflict. Most often, small changes can be made to program details, without jeopardizing the mission and mandate of the organization, or the goals of the intervention.

Gender and Do No Harm: Guidance Note

Peacebuilding and Do No Harm: Guidance Note

Do No Harm Framework for Analyzing the Impact of Assistance on Conflict: Handbook

What is Conflict Sensitivity?

Conflict sensitivity refers to the practice of understanding how aid interacts with conflict in a particular context, to mitigate unintended negative effects, and to influence conflict positively wherever possible, through humanitarian, development and/or peacebuilding interventions.

Select Resources

DNH Workshop Trainer Manual


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Options in Aid

In the late 1990s, CDA organized the Implementation Phase of the DNH Program. In this phase, 13 agencies collaborated directly with DNH in testing the usefulness and practicality of the framework.  They used it in their project design, implementation, monitoring, evaluation and redesign.  CDA provided a liaison for each project to train organization staff, provide advice on how to use the framework, and return to the project site every three to four months to perform additional facilitation or training as needed, and to keep the approach foremost in the minds of project teams.  DNH liaisons also documented the learning process and outcomes and reported the experiences gathered to the project. The lessons from this phase are captured in Options for Aid in Conflict: Lessons from Field Experience.

Starting in 2001, building on the lessons learned through implementation, the DNH program focused on mainstreaming DNH, by providing training, accompaniment and advice to organizations throughout the world.

From Principle to Practice

In 2006, CDA took up the task of finding out the current state of knowledge of DNH and what impact it had made on the way assistance workers designed and implemented programs.  This task began with a series of case studies exploring how organizations had trained staff and used DNH in their programming.  Many of the lessons from these case studies, as well as the experience of implementing DNH over twenty years, are presented in From Principle to Practice: a User’s Guide.