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  • 17th Sep 2021

Applying behavioural insights and dialogue to build Smart Peace in conflict settings

For three years, The Behavioural Insights Team has been part of Smart Peace, an initiative to apply a deep understanding of human behaviour to develop new tools for peacebuilding in some of the world’s most fragile states. In collaboration with the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, Conciliation Resources and ETH Zurich, we’re pleased to present a new guide designed to support dialogue facilitation in conflict settings. 

Download the guides:

Cross-cultural version (full guide)

Cross-cultural version (pocket cards)

Nigerian version (full guide)

Nigerian version (pocket cards)

Peacebuilding dialogue: a behavioural solution

Conflict is a behavioural and social expression of our shared human psychology. It reveals our propensity to prefer our own group over others, to dehumanise those who are different, and behave in harmful ways as part of automatic patterns of thinking and acting. To build peaceful solutions, we need to understand these factors, and identify behavioural insights to overcome them. 

The object of a dialogue is not to analyse things, or to win an argument, or to exchange opinions. Rather, it is to suspend your opinions and to look at the opinions – to listen to everybody’s opinions, to suspend them, and to see what all that means.”

David Bohm, On Dialogue 

One potential solution lies in using dialogue to build peace. In situations of conflict, dialogues provide a peaceful mechanism for people of different backgrounds, opinions and motivations to meet to share their experiences, and explore potential solutions to their grievances. This draws on a central behavioural insight for peacebuilding: bringing opposed groups in contact with one another — for positive and productive interactions — can reduce conflict between them. Better still, encouraging people to suspend their worldview and take the perspective of another person can reduce prejudice towards others.

Our guide applies these behavioural insights to create more open, balanced and empathetic conversations between people who are in conflict with one another. The guide provides facilitators with a series of practical activities to support participants to speak openly about their experiences, consider alternative points of view, and instil peaceful change in their communities.   

Sharing the expertise of Smart Peace dialogue facilitators   

In northeast Nigeria, thirteen years of insurgency and military response has killed tens of thousands of civilians, and displaced over two million people. The activities in our guide are inspired by the practices of Smart Peace peacebuilders who facilitate dialogues in this fractious setting, as well as evidence of what works to promote peaceful behaviours in other dispute situations. 

To create the guide, we interviewed skilled Nigerian facilitators who work with a range of actors — from elites and militia members, to local leaders and civilians. Facilitating a dialogue is a delicate art of balancing the interests, emotions and words of diverse participants to build empathy, and empower them to find common ground. We found that facilitators share many aims, challenges, and practices despite working with diverse stakeholders. The shared aims expressed by our facilitators were used to inform the selection of nine activities that could be practically used to achieve them:

Dialogue activities 

Use the guide to build smart peace          

This guide is aimed at dialogue facilitators, mediators and negotiators who have experience working in settings shaped by conflict, whether in northeast Nigeria or other places around the globe. The activities can be used as part of dialogue sessions, community groups, mediatory sessions, or as part of training to build local peacebuilding skills. 

To accompany the activities, we’ve developed a series of easy-to-use prompt cards. Each card provides a summary of an activity to support facilitation during the session. There are two versions of the cards and guide, one set for use in cross-cultural settings, and one for northeast Nigeria. 

Activity to help participants build empathy towards others, with prompts for the facilitator 

In contexts where resources are scarce, we want policymakers, practitioners, and international organisations to use this tool to inform their practices, with the eventual aim of evaluating its impact. If you’re interested in using the dialogue guide for your programme, please contact  

This project is funded by the UK Government. The opinions expressed in this publication represent those of The Behavioural Insights Team, and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the UK Government or other Smart Peace consortium partners. Smart Peace partners include Conciliation Resources, Behavioural Insights Team, The Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, Chatham House, ETH Zurich, International Crisis Group and The Asia Foundation.