A "best practice" is a way of achieving an objective that has proved its effectiveness in another situation; a "lesson" is an observation that adds to general knowledge about a subject and suggests that something should be repeated or avoided in future; "guidance" refers to instructions, advice or suggestions for the execution of a task.1
Best practice asserts that there is a technique, method, process, activity, incentive or reward that is more effective at delivering a particular outcome than any other technique, method, process, etc. The idea is that with proper processes, checks, and testing, a desired outcome can be delivered with fewer problems and unforeseen complications. Best practices can also be defined as the most efficient (least amount of effort) and effective (best results) way of accomplishing a task, based on repeatable procedures that have proven themselves over time for large numbers of people.2
Peacekeeping Best Practices: The general problem and need for a new system
For nearly sixty years peacekeeping was loosely guided by interpretation of diverse manuals and mandates, a largely unwritten array of principles and word of mouth experiences handed down from thousands of participants. This earlier lack of a credible, consolidated capacity, with skilled personnel documenting, analysing and circulating information, instructions and guidelines on peacekeeping prompted numerous criticisms from both participants in the field and numerous member states.
Frequently, UN peacekeepers in the 1990s were not provided with sufficient advice to perform assigned tasks, confused by the Organization's expectations and found little to help inform them of how to respond to new developments and shifting circumstances. Irrespective of earlier manuals and attempts to inform, this preliminary system continued to elicit comments of being unduly ad hoc, a continuous process of having to re-invent the wheel for each operation, leading to a wider impression of peacekeeping as being relatively disorganised, far from professional, systematic or inspiring.
With the shift to protracted internal conflicts and increasingly complex multidimensional operations, the related problems and risks became evident, as did the need for a new approach.
Yet the diverse perspectives of UN member states are seldom aligned in support of prompt adaptation. One influential block retained strong reservations over the political and financial implications of any departure from traditional peacekeeping. A more systematic, institutionalised approach to peacekeeping was not shared as a priority. Progress in this respect was effectively stymied when the wider reform process was perceived to be coupled to contentious new approaches to peacekeeping, which necessitated the development of doctrine, information-gathering, new mechanisms for rapid deployment, protection of civilians and the use of force, at least, until many of the most concerned became the primary source of troop contributions in 1997. Their experience as lead contributors over the ensuing decade generated considerably more receptivity to engage in related reforms, even reforms that pertained to doctrine, surveillance and monitoring and, information-gathering (aka intelligence).
In the words of the Secretary-General's 2007 report on PBP, "the scope and complexity of the activities conducted in multidimensional operations and the need for rapid deployment and efficiency in the use of resources require that a professional approach be taken in the way operations are managed."3 Previous experience and lessons-learned, recommendations from numerous UN committees and reports, surveys from the field, as well as an assessment of the best practices and policy development systems in 20 organisations world-wide, all pointed to the need for a new approach and new system.4
The following assumptions underpinned the key requirements:
There would be a need to identify, validate and endorse key lessons in standardized guidance materials if they were to be widely learned;
This would have to be a continuous activity of field practitioners, guided and support by Headquarters;
Sharing and implementing lessons system-wide would be more demanding than the natural process of learning lessons, thus requiring standardised templates and electronic platforms for broad sharing;
As participants in the field and at headquarters would be too heavily-tasked in responding to fast-paced developments and high operational demands, a dedicated staff would be needed to analyse, retain, prepare and share specialist knowledge and to focus on organisational priorities.5
In line with a much broader emphasis on 'information and knowledge', UN DPKO planned to improve peacekeeping by increasing its capacity as a 'learning organization'.
Peacekeeping Best Practices '101'
'Peacekeeping best practices' is a relatively new and inspiring example of successful UN adaptation to ongoing challenges. Drawing on lessons learned from experience, problem-solving and continuous refinement of best practices, it is now an integral part of wider efforts to improve planning, conduct, management and support of UN peacekeeping. It is also being developed within a new system, with a concerted focus on not only institutionalising lessons learned and best practices, but also applying them through more sophisticated methods, including common doctrine and a global communication and information-sharing architecture.
The Peacekeeping Best Practices Section
In 2005, the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations developed a new approach and system within a Peacekeeping Best Practices Section. Their mission statement is "to support the production and dissemination of knowledge and guidance throughout the peacekeeping system, thereby raising standards, enhancing accountability and improving operational effectiveness."6Developing and supporting a culture of best practices in UN peacekeeping is also cited as an overall goal.
PBPS is made up of teams of individuals who work together, sharing expertise, experience and ideas to accomplish all the varied tasks of the Section, which link into the priorities of DPKO and operations in the field. Included within this Section are a knowledge management team, a guidance team, a partnership team, field best practices officers and focal points, as well as thematic advisors in a gender unit, HIV/AIDS unit, evaluations team and focal points for child protection and civil affairs. The PBPS now works under the direction of DPKO's Policy Evaluation and Training Division.7
This section continues to utilise lessons learned from experience, problem-solving, continuous analysis and refinement of policy and, sharing of best practices. Yet the new learning system goes further, incorporating an advanced performance improvement process of lessons learning, validation, policy promulgation, dissemination, training, implementation and evaluation.
In short, this is a more sophisticated system. Aside from generating better information and guidelines, it has already developed advanced learning programmes for both general and specialised areas of peacekeeping. New mechanisms, working habits and inclusive cooperation are encouraged. New communication and information systems, particularly the Peace Operations Intranet have also been developed to circulate and receive feedback on the diverse areas of UN peacekeeping.
The Peace Operations Intranet: Connecting the Peacekeeping Community8
Managed by the Knowledge Team, this online resource is available in all missions and to all peacekeepers. It is central to efforts to promote and disseminate best practices products. It provides prompt access to both general documents and the very detailed information often required by specialists. The Peace Operations Intranet allows browsing through: (1) The Guidance Framework; (2) Types of documents (policies, SOFA …); (3)Mission; (4) Country; (5) Topic; and (6)Keywords using search function. It is a also a platform for increasing cooperation between interested parties in various operations, field-based best practices officers, the PBPS, DPKO, DFS and the wider UN system.
Communities of Practice: Promoting Peacekeeping Connections and Advanced Knowledge
Online networks have been launched and encouraged by the Knowledge Team, not only to share awareness, but also to contribute to the refinement of specific policy, guidelines and doctrine for the more particular 65 sub-categories listed under the umbrella of the Cap-Stone Doctrine. To date, 19 communities of practice are already engaged in helping to develop doctrine for areas as varied as 'fuel transport' to 'protection of civilians'.
As noted, "despite the need to improve on processes as times change and things evolve, best-practice is considered by some as a business buzzword used to describe the process of developing and following a standard way of doing things that multiple organizations can use for management, policy, and especially software systems. As the term has become more popular, some organizations have begun using "best practices" to refer to what are in fact 'rules'…"
4Although related efforts were institutionalised in a Lessons Learned Unit in 1995, the methods adopted, their thematic reports and larger studies of closed missions were not amenable to ease of use within fast-paced planning in UNHQ or implementing within field operations. In 2000, both the Brahimi report (the Panel on UN Peace Operations) and the UN Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations noted the lack of a process for providing effective guidance where and when it was most needed. While lessons learned were proving helpful, they remained difficult to translate into the policies, procedures and guidelines, which are the essential basis for sound doctrine.
5 Peacekeeping Best Practices, Report of the Secretary-General, A/62/593 paras 5-7, p. 3.
6 United Nations, "Peacekeeping Best Practices, Guidance and Knowledge Sharing Tools", Power-point presentation of PBPS, January 2009.
A more thorough elaboration was conveyed in A/62/593, which states, "The Peacekeeping Best Practices Section is responsible for coordinating all activities related to the identification and sharing of lessons learned and best practices and the development and dissemination of guidance materials for both the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department of Field Support. The Section's goal is to establish a unified system of experience-based doctrine in order to further strengthen the effectiveness of United Nations peacekeeping and to facilitate the transfer of knowledge across all United Nations peacekeeping operations. The Section also provides analysis and policy recommendations on emerging and cross-cutting issues such as mission integration, protection of civilians and risk management. Para 12, p. 5
7To further the lessons-learned system and wider co-ordination in 2007 the PBPS was placed under a Policy Evaluation and Training Division. This smaller entity is responsible to ensure best practices, guidance development and training services are provided to both DFS and DPKO; that both operate on the basis of common doctrine; that information sharing reaches into the broader spectrum of issues and parties; and, that all engaged in training use common standards.