Back to All Events

How to Adapt to Difficult Contexts: What Development Can Learn from Peacebuilding

The fields of international development and peacebuilding have operated in silos for decades. Even though development and peacebuilding activities are often implemented by the same organizations in the same places, discussions have often remained separate.

What can development practitioners learn from peacebuilders, who operate in highly unpredictable, often ambiguous contexts?

Susanna Campbell’s research reveals key lessons, specifically about how to implement adaptive management and become more effective learning organizations.

Join for this book talk and interactive discussion centered on Global Governance and Local Peace (Cambridge University Press 2018), in which American University Professor Susanna Campbell shows how a variety of development, peacebuilding, and humanitarian actors are subject to the same performance barrier: they are accountable to global, not local, actors. The lack of local accountability prevents these organizations from learning from the contexts and the people that they aim to change.This reverse accountability may make many organizations designed to fail. How can this be overcome?

Adaptive management can present an important way out. But when and how do organizations really learn and change in complex political and social environments? While adaptive management is becoming increasingly popular in development circles, this research challenges some common assumptions about how to manage adaptively.

In this event, we will discuss the relevance of existing adaptive management frameworks to development and peacebuilding interventions, focusing particularly on the importance of local accountability in enabling responsive and context-driven interventions, and enabling more more learning-centered organizations.

Lunch will be provided.

This is part of an ongoing series of events about adaptive learning and “doing development differently” at the Open Gov Hub.


Susanna Campbell is an Assistant Professor at American University’s School of International Service. Prof. Campbell’s research and teaching address war-to-peace transitions, peacebuilding, peacekeeping, international development and humanitarian aid, global governance, IO and INGO behavior, and the micro-dynamics of civil war and peace. She uses mixed-method research designs and has conducted extensive fieldwork in conflict-affected countries, including Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nepal, Sudan, South Sudan, and Timor-Leste. She has received numerous grants for her research, including from the Swiss National Science Foundation, the Folke Bernadotte Academy, the Swiss Network for International Studies, and the United States Institute of Peace.

Her first single-authored book, Global Governance and Local Peace: Accountability and Performance in International Peacebuilding, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2018. She is currently finishing her second book, Aiding Peace? Donor Behavior in Conflict-Affected Countries, and has published peer-reviewed articles in International Studies Review, Journal of Global Security Studies, Cambridge Review of International Studies, and International Peacekeeping, among other journals. Prof. Campbell has led evaluations of the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund, United Nations Development Program, and the World Bank and has worked for the Council on Foreign Relations and UNICEF. She received her PhD from Tufts University in 2012 and was a Post-Doctoral Researcher at Columbia University’s Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies and The Graduate Institute in Geneva.


  • Lauren Keevill, Governance Advisor at PACT International

  • Kristine Herrmann-DeLuca, Democracy Specialist at the Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance, USAID