In the last three decades, maintaining peace and security has become further complicated by an increase in violence perpetrated no longer exclusively by national armies and armed opposition groups but also by an increasingly assertive and brutal range of hybrid actors, such as illegal armed groups, transnational criminal networks and urban gangs. The impact is so significant that the violence resulting from these situations exceeds many on-going civil wars.

Analysing and understanding these new types of non-state armed groups (NSAGs) and the increasingly complex environments they operate in poses a challenge to the UN. Since affiliation and distinctions change constantly, a holistic understanding of the actors and structures that shape contemporary forms of armed violence is needed. This course equips UN staff and partners with analytical tools and practical knowledge to better comprehend the political, economic and social factors driving genesis, group cohesion, resource strategies and organizational logic of non-state armed groups. The training builds upon the conceptual framework of systems thinking as an innovative tool for seeing through complexity and identifying underlying structures and root causes of violence in order to generate lasting change.

The course adopts a multidisciplinary approach, bringing together theoretical and practical insights from various fields and areas of engagement. The Changing Character of War Centre at Oxford University collaborates on this project by integrating findings and tools from the Changing Character of Conflict project into the course content. Dr Annette Idler is the academic lead for the courses.



Upon successful completion of this course, participants will be able to:

  • Apply different methods and tools, including systems thinking, to analyse and understand non-state armed groups;
  • Explain the interrelation between political, economic, social, cultural and gender-related aspects of armed violence;
  • Identify the challenges and risks involved in operationalising engagement in complex environments;
  • Value country examples and good practices for analysing non-state armed groups.

Course Methodology

Course Methodology: 

The course will engage participants with adult learning methodologies, characterised by an engaging and interactive training style. This includes working in groups on a case study that will allow practicing the application of the newly acquired analytical skills. Fictional scenarios will encourage participants to reflect upon how to translate their analytical insights into practice.

Course Contents

Course Contents: 
  • Day 1 gives an insight into existing practices and challenges as well as the overall context of the changing character of conflict. Systems thinking will be introduced as a conceptual framework for the analysis of the coming days.
  • Day 2 focusses on tools and methods to understand leadership and organizational logic as well as identity and social legitimacy of non-state armed groups.
  • Day 3 focusses on tools and methods to understand the political economy and governance of non-state armed groups. The second part of the day serves to connect the findings of previous analytical exercises in a systems analysis.
  • Day 4 is dedicated to operationalization and engagement of non-state armed groups.

The training uses concrete country cases and real-life examples to look at recruitment strategies, rebel governance, economic incentives, group formation and the role of history, identity and rituals that characterize non-state armed groups and their environment. A range of tools and approaches drawn from conflict analysis, political economy analysis, anthropology and psychology, amongst others, will be applied in order to reach a systemic understanding of non-state armed groups.

Target Audience

Target Audience: 

Mid-level UN personnel (both national and international staff) who are either deployed in duty stations that are affected by the presence of armed groups or whose job description involves the analysis, interaction, and possibly engagement with armed groups.

Open to representatives from INGOs and NGOs, academia, think tanks, bilateral donors, International Financial Institutions, foundations etc.

Cost of participation

Cost of participation: 

The course fee is USD 2000. Sponsoring organisations are responsible for the travel and accommodation of their participating staff.

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