How We Work

Systems change occurs when deep learning meets creative collaboration

That’s why CDA forms strategic partnerships with operational organizations, funders, policy actors, and academic institutions across the humanitarian, development, and peacebuilding nexus to facilitate bold action wherever communities experience conflict.

While CDA is not a funding organization, find out how to partner with us on our current collaborative learning projects or ask how our services can be personalized to your needs.

How We Partner

Collaborative Learning Projects

CDA believes that positive systems change happens when the people closest to complex challenges are central to defining, understanding, and transforming those challenges. 

Our collaborative learning approach creates practical resources to address the challenges of working in fragile settings by engaging diverse practitioners in an inclusive, iterative process of research. We listen for the essential questions – questions that are bigger than any one institution, sector, or country – and learn with people closest to these challenges to contribute to positive change that has practical impact on real people’s lives and wider systems.

Collaborative learning starts with simple questions:

How does aid affect peace or war?

What is effective in peacebuilding, and what isn’t?

How do companies affect peace or conflict?

How do people at the “receiving end” of international aid assess its effectiveness?

Learning Partnerships

CDA is a trusted learning partner and expert in Do No Harm, conflict sensitivity, accountability to affected populations, and shifting power across the humanitarian-development-peace nexus, known for our rigorous and collaborative approach to analysis.

We’re learning together to help our partners tackle the major challenges of our time.

We engage in long-term learning partnerships to support organizations to integrate and institutionalize CDA tools and approaches into both what they do and how they do it. Our guidance is grounded in field experience, enables organizations to learn with and from each other, and is uniquely adaptable. By helping partners apply and operationalize what is most relevant to meet their specific needs and goals, we are promoting sustainable changes to shift the way we work as a sector. 

Browse examples of past engagements with partners like World Vision and IFRC.


Do No Harm and Conflict Sensitivity

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.

Listening to Affected Populations

Listening is a challenge. It is a skill and requires discipline to set aside expectations of what someone will say and to be open to the multiple levels at which people communicate with each other. To listen effectively at the interpersonal-level, one needs first to be quiet long enough to let the other person talk. Then one needs to ask questions about the ideas of the other person, rather than interject one’s own opinions or jump to quick conclusions about what the other person means. Above all else, listening is a way of showing respect.

1. Listening Broadly and Systematically. Listening Teams held conversations with a wide range of people and in places where they felt comfortable – in teashops, workplaces, individual homes and gardens, etc. The questions were open-ended, broad, and guided by a commitment to learning how people had experienced or observed aid efforts, and what they thought could be done to make assistance more effective. Rather than typical questionnaires (which most aid agency staff were more familiar and comfortable with), unscripted listening conversations enabled people to reflect on their experiences and observations, and most importantly, to bring up any issues about international aid efforts that mattered to them.

2. Challenges in Listening and Analyzing the Cumulative Voice. Listening Teams had to decide to whom we would listen, how many people to include, how to record their ideas and opinions, how to be sure—as sure as we could be—that we really understood what they were saying. We had to address the contradictions and inconsistencies across regions and countries. We were keenly aware of the inherent predispositions that listening team members have for the opinions expressed by the most articulate people. We had to consider biases people may have given their social standing, affiliations and backgrounds. The teams also had to navigate meanings lost in translation and acknowledge and guard against their own biases.


In order to deal with these significant challenges, the Listening Project provided training to listening teams and developed a rigorous process to systematically analyze the qualitative evidence derived from our listening conversations. Once the conversations were held in each country, the listening teams completed a collective analysis of what they had heard, aiming to find the composite voice of people without submerging minority viewpoints or losing subtlety or nuance. From this analysis, the Listening Project produced field visit reports, which were translated into the national language(s) and circulated more widely in the country and globally. When multiple field visit reports were complete, CDA convened groups of experienced practitioners to analyze the evidence, and to discuss the implications for aid providers. Throughout the listening and analysis process, the Listening Project maintained a strong commitment to ensure that all voices were heard and that all could engage in collaborative learning and analysis.

Humanity United
Carnegie Corporation of New York
Norwegian MFA
Norwegian MFA
Norwegian MFA
Norwegian MFA
peace direct
Search for Common Ground
Norwegian MFA
Norwegian MFA
Norwegian MFA
Norwegian MFA
Norwegian MFA
Norwegian MFA
Norwegian MFA
Norwegian MFA
Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs
Paung Sie Facility
Norwegian MFA
International Alert
Global Affairs Canada
Norwegian MFA
International Rescue Committee
US Department of State Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL)