Narrative Peacebuilding in Practice: Reflections from IFIT’s Hub Launch

In this 30-minute video from the launch of IFIT’s Narrative Peacebuilding Hub, IFIT founder and executive director Mark Freeman talks to narrative expert and IFIT Inclusive Narratives Practice Group member Dr. Sara Cobb, Kenya National Cohesion and Integration Commission researcher Jescah Otieno, and IFIT Colombia Brain Trust coordinator Alejandra González Ferro about the practice of using narrative strategies to strengthen peacebuilding efforts.

Sara highlights that narratives create meaning, which shapes our lives, influences our understanding of ourselves in relation to others, and drives our actions. Summarising IFIT’s narrative peacebuilding approach, Sara notes that the standard peacebuilding practice of promoting a unifying narrative is ineffective against the deeply-rooted divisive narratives that characterise polarised contexts. Instead, she advocates for using tailored strategies and tools to help people transform their own narratives from within, while amplifying smaller stories that enrich the national narrative landscape and promote engagement among individuals and groups in conflict. 

Describing initiatives to address ethnic divisions and electoral violence Kenya, Jescah argues that mapping national narratives and implementing contextualised narrative interventions is key to addressing the roots of conflict to enable sustainable peacebuilding. She shares several lessons learnt, including that people find it easier to tell stories that stereotype the ‘other’ than to see themselves clearly, which makes narrative work central to helping social groups take shared responsibility for resolving conflict. Jescah also emphasises that narrative work in countries marked by divisions requires trauma sensitivity, and often the provision of psychosocial support. 

Reflecting on IFIT’s work in Colombia, Alejandra shares strategies for identifying openings for applying a narrative lens and integrating narrative tools into ongoing peacebuilding activities as the national context evolves. She reflects on lessons learnt using narrative tools in meetings with actors who are on opposing sides or who rarely engage with each other, with the aim of avoiding divisive language and finding common ground. She notes the value of acknowledging the legitimacy of participants’ emotions to enable engagement, starting narrative efforts with those closest to us and expanding to other networks, and consulting with experts in diverse fields for a fuller understanding of the narrative context, particularly writers, artists and other creatives.

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