Lessons Learned: Breaking Silos in Atrocity Prevention Research and Policymaking
Researchers at the Blavatnik school of government have established a network to bring together academics and policy makers from both sides of the Atlantic to ensure atrocity prevention policy is better informed by evidence and analysis.
Understanding how to prevent atrocity crimes such as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide is extremely complex. Specific interventions in pursuance of a variety of policy objectives – including counter terrorism, but also humanitarian and conflict prevention efforts - may be counterproductive if not designed taking into account the specific ways in which they may affect, even invertedly, atrocity prevention; similarly, wider global trends and policies may have unintended impacts or undermine prevention strategies.
Prevention is also the responsibility of a diverse range of organisations, with varied remits, powers, and areas of operation – creating barriers to learning and coordination. So, making robust evidence available and fostering ongoing dialogue about prevention, can make a significant contribution to effective policy making.
We validated the value of our iterative approach – with policy needs shaping research agendas and research feeding back into policy development and implementation.
An OPEN award from the Strategic Priorities Fund (Jan-March 2021) allowed us to establish the ‘Breaking Silos’ network, connecting policy and research actors on both sides of the Atlantic. Partners included NATO and the EU, academic and research institutions such as McGill University and the Simon Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, and peace organisations in the US and Europe.
A series of dialogues helped us understand policy makers’ evidence needs and identify shared priorities. Among other activities, briefings on key thematic areas made existing research available to policy makers for the first time and new research revealed the impact of global policies such as on ‘fragility, conflict, and violence’ on prevention. The research team at the University of Oxford was also invited to directly brief key security actors including NATO, the US State Department and various UK Parliamentary Inquiries on a number of issues relating to atrocity prevention.
In fact, the project created so many opportunities to input to policy processes and provide bespoke evidence or advice, that in retrospect it would have been useful to keep some funding aside for these unforeseen activities!
One of our key achievements was being able to put the network, and Oxford University, on policy makers’ radar – strengthening our reputation as ‘go-to’ experts. It also clearly validated the value of our iterative approach – with policy needs shaping research agendas and research feeding back into policy development and implementation.
Our passionate belief as academics is that evidence-informed policy will better protect citizens from the devastation caused by mass atrocities.
We’re delighted that the network had continued to evolve into a variety of concrete research outputs and partnerships with the University of Oxford as it centre, allowing ongoing dialogue and collaboration with policy makers. We’re also continuing to build on the investment made by the University through this award by crafting research grants and partnership to support the network and our research priorities moving forward, and expand on our capacity to respond to specific evidence requests from partners.
Our passionate belief as academics is that evidence-informed policy will better protect citizens from the devastation caused by mass atrocities. The platform now provides an excellent springboard from which to engage policy actors in the US and Europe, and to help develop and implement such policies.
Federica D'Alessandra is Deputy Director, Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict (ELAC) and Executive Director, Oxford Programme on International Peace and Security, Blavatnik School of Government.