Episode 008 - Zachary Metz

Peace Writ Large, Peace Writ Small

Episode Summary
Zachary Metz: Peace Writ Large, Peace Writ Small

In this episode, Zach describes his extensive experience in different conflict-affected societies from Iraq to East Timor. Our conversation focuses on the conventional wisdom in the field that interventions must be systemic – “peace writ large” – if they are to be effective, and contrasts that thinking with the question of whether smaller initiatives – “peace writ small” — can make a profound difference, particularly in pervasive, intractable conflict. Zach tells a specific and very moving anecdote about an event in 2005 Iraq in which a single intense interchange between participants embodied many of the identity group tensions in the war-torn country, while shifting the group to a different and much more cohesive place.
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Zachary’s Bio

Zachary Metz is a Partner and the Director of Peace Building Practice with Consensus, where he designs and implements long-term peace building projects to contribute to the transformation of violent conflict. He consults with a wide range of clients, having designed and implemented programming in Iraq, Northern Ireland, Myanmar, Israel-Palestine, Timor-Leste, Lebanon, Colombia, Indonesia and elsewhere. He has consulted and implemented capacity building initiatives for international organizations, including UNDP, UNICEF, UNDPKO and the International Organization for Migration. He has worked with multilateral organizations including the Office of the Quartet Representative, and the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), and international NGOs including Search for Common Ground. He has provided expertise and training to governmental bodies including the Office of the President of Timor-Leste, the Iraq Property Claims Commission, USAID, and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). He teaches at Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), New York University and Universidad Externado de Colombia.
Mr. Metz earned an MA from Columbia University in international affairs, and is currently completing a PhD in sociology at the New School for Social Research in New York, focused on intractable conflict dynamics.

Show Notes (See below for links to resources and topics mentioned in this podcast)

Zach Metz works with Consensus, a consulting firm, working in negotiation, collaboration and conflict resolution

  • Zach is the Director of the Peacebuilding practice
    • Adjunct Professor with the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University (SIPA)
      • Teaches a course called Applied Peacebuilding, Core Competencies for Fieldwork
    • Professionally, what I do is to support, interact with, train and advise key institutional actors who are working in conflict-affected societies
      • The environment is conflict-affected societies
      • The stakeholders are key institutions, e.g. governments, UN agencies, non-governmental organizations as well as media.
    • Two layers to his professional peacebuilding work
      • How do you make what you do more conflict-sensitive?
        • What are the tools that you can use to understand conflict dynamics
      • How do you intervene, as a key institution, to address long-term conflict in a constructive way?
        • Everything, literally everything, can be a catalyst for violence or an incubator and resource for building sustainable peace
        • We work opportunistically as well as systemically
        • To borrow from Andrea Bartoli: the notion of peacebuilding as a serendipitous intervention, finding opportunities to bring in a resource or a new idea
        • Susan draws parallels to Gestalt theory, once you understand the dynamics of a system you can work at any level of the system
      • There are two trends in the field
        • Trying to systematize and be more rigorous about creating and finding opportunities
          • For example, helping UNICEF staff to think systematically about how their efforts could be twinned with a peacebuilding approach or viewed through a peacebuilding lens
        • Being self-critical and thinking about adding value
          • For example, how work in Iraq was occasionally redundant with other groups who were providing similar training
          • Organizations like The Alliance For Peacebuilding and The European Institute for Peace are beginning to connect different peacebuilding groups and track efforts
        • Peace Writ Large, Peace Writ Small
          • CDA, Collaborative Development Associates, under the stewardship of Mary Anderson, defined the paradigm of Peace Writ Large
            • If a peacebuilding initiative doesn’t connect with ‘peace writ large’, which is broad-based, systemic, social and structural transformation, then it will have negligible impact, and could be doing harm because it draws resources away from other efforts
            • Susan responds that she doesn’t accept that you have to intervene at the largest level
            • Zach replies that they are not saying that every intervention has to be at a systemic level, they are saying that every intervention must link with and support a higher level change process
            • A separate critique from Zach: if we use this peacebuilding paradigms for placed with deep and intractable conflicts, then we might lose opportunities
          • Zach is interested in ‘peace writ small’: in every conflict system there are people who interact in authentically collaborative ways that don’t fit with the idea of a polarized region
            • We must draw attention to these and support them
            • Susan says that this is a sort of appreciative inquiry
            • Zach replies that this is true insofar as appreciative inquiry is about focusing on the positive
            • Susan adds that paying attention to smaller units of work can bring energy into the solution
            • ‘Peace writ little’ is part of CDA’s paradigm and also the concept of adding up small interventions
            • Zach refers to his work with Jeffrey Goldfarb at the New School, and talks about the concept of the ‘politics of small things’
              • While large scale change really matters, the action prior to the systemic changes is in very small places, for example, in Poland prior to the fall of the communism, there was change in avant garde theater
            • This concept of small-but-important moments is particularly applicable in working within intractable conflicts,
              • Informed by Peter Coleman’s work which lays out models that help us to understand the power of intractability, which is different from episodic conflict or war
                • A culture that has been overtaken by violence and conflict which then embeds in every aspect of interaction
              • A story: Iraq, 2005
                • An article describing this incident can be found at http://www.deliberatelyconsidered.com/tag/zachary-metz/
                • So what does this mean, there is some larger political importance, we need to understand these moments, they happen all the time but they are obscured because they are private and because they seem unimportant
                  • Peace Writ Large could mean that we don’t pay attention to peace writ small
                  • How do we make sense of that, help that, nurture that, understand it for what it is and not simply what we want it to be
                • If you highlight these incidences you could put people in danger
              • On the horizon for the peacebuilding field: two trends
                • Institutionalization
                  • Concepts being grappled with and codified within major organizations from the UN to the World Bank to the EU
                  • Patterns are showing up in research and case studies to create systematization
                  • On the whole this is good, we can develop real skills in this area
                • A critique of over-simplification and over-systemization
                  • You might make things worse if you cannot see the context
                  • John Paul Lederach’s work on intractable conflicts.
                  • Severine Autessere’s book Peaceland, looks at the problems that arise from over-simplification
                • Final words of wisdom
                  • Humility: I know something, I am not going to pretend that I don’t have expertise, but if I think I have the answer then I have big problems
                  • Patience: the work does not have big payoffs in the moment
                  • Relationships: Peacebuilding does not work as a parachute intervention where you drop in and leave; it is done best with and through relationships with key stakeholders within regions that are struggling with conflicts
                • You can contact Zach through the Consensus website, consensusgroup.com or via email: zmetz@consensusgroup.com

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