In partnership with the Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation (CMM) of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Conflict Prevention Project is engaged in a seminar series on conflict development linkages. This particular meeting focused on local government and conflict mitigation and addressed in particular how development programs should prioritize long range development goals versus short-term interests when targeting local governance programs; challenges between supporting local government initiatives and/or community mobilization efforts; decentralization challenges including working in high risk environments with difficult partners and employing potentially destabilizing programs.

Mari Fitzduff, Director of the Program in Coexistence and Conflict at Brandeis University and former Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council; Derick Brinkerhoff, Senior Fellow in International Public Management at the Research Triangle Institute, the lead contractor in establishing local governance programs in Iraq. Fitzduff and Brinkerhoff spoke about the obstacles and opportunities of creating local governance structures in conflict settings.

Fitzduff began the session by underscoring the importance of establishing local governance structures early on, even before the conflict itself has been terminated. Having been part of such an effort in Northern Ireland, Fitzduff attested to the many challenges that the establishment of local governance in a community torn apart by decades of violent conflict presented but also to the important foundations for the post-conflict period that this process was able to establish. While the political context influenced the local councils Fitzduff managed, the work that was going on in the councils was often powerful enough to change the context, thus actively contributing to the resolution of conflict.

Brinkerhoff spoke about Research Triangle Institute's (RTI) work in creating a local governance framework in present-day Iraq. Being the lead contractor on local governance in this country, RTI is in charge of creating local councils in order to improve local service delivery as well as encourage Iraqi citizens to become involved in the policy process. According to Brinkerhoff, building such local governance mechanisms can have a positive impact on the underlying causes of conflict. Even though the future of local governance in Iraq is highly tenuous and there is a danger of backsliding into more centralized governance structures, Brinkerhoff nevertheless expressed the hope that RTI's work in training Iraqis in local governance principles would form a foundation that could continue to inform and influence future developments in Iraq.