Action Research And Critical Thinking Can Improve Abilities as a Peacebuilder | Pollack Peacebuilding Systems

May 6, 2020by Natalie Davis

Summary of:

Pace, M. (2020). Everyday action research for complex times: A peacebuilder’s guide. Sage Journals.

Background & Theory

Complexity theory touches on the fact that the world is complex, and all issues and activities have multiple facets to them that are not always predictable. The author notes that in many ways, the problems peacebuilders face are also very complex. This requires peacebuilders to think in new, creative ways, and she argues it also requires peacebuilders to intentionally learn, grow, evaluate, and think outside of the box in relation to the conflict(s) at hand.

Research Question

The author seeks to address the following question in their study:

  1. How can peacebuilders be effective in a complex and ever-changing world?


Pace answers her question by evaluating what complexity is and means and what peacebuilders’ roles are in addressing conflict. She uses a real-life example from her own past to evaluate the pros and cons of the situation and how we can use this to learn from moving forward. She pulls references and informational tidbits from multiple sources to further make her points and to suggest ways that peacebuilders can be more effective in a complex environment. Some areas evaluated relate to relationships, human development, problem-solving techniques, how the brain works and is geared to think about problems (i.e., we have a mechanistic systematic brain), and how peacebuilders can use this information to lend to purposeful action research.


The final conclusion with all of the data and experience pulled together is that peacebuilders need to consciously make an effort to learn and be flexible. It’s critical that peacebuilders continuously learn to let go of tools and ways of thought that may not be relevant to their situation at hand, and to instead make a specific effort to learn each day, look for outside possibilities, and think of all facets of the problems at hand. Intractable conflicts often have numerous areas that are all equally critical to resolving the conflict. It’s important for conflict resolution specialists to note this and consciously be looking for what these many areas and depths might be.

What This Means

  • Peacebuilding and conflict resolution are ever-evolving, especially as society and conflicts continue to evolve. It’s critical that anyone in this field is open to constant learning, being able to acknowledge when they’re wrong, and thinking outside of themselves to address the conflicts at hand.
  • Pace notes a critical point that it’s not only “what we need to learn, but more important how it is we need to learn” (2020).
  • Some areas that peacebuilders can grow in to be more adaptable in this complex world include engaging the world around us as opposed to merely living in it, learning to stay calm in any given moment and focusing on what’s at hand, and learning each day from our experiences. Also, using all of these things to shift the way we automatically react to situations to be more well-rounded.

Final Takeaway

For consultants: Not only should we encourage clients to think outside of themselves, but as practitioners, we should be doing the same. If there is an intractable conflict, consider that maybe you haven’t seen all of the puzzle pieces yet. Maybe you didn’t miss anything, but maybe there are areas not previously evaluated that can help unlock the key to resolution. Be open to being wrong and using each interaction as a learning opportunity.

For everyone: The world is a complex place, no matter what part of it you’re looking at. We grow and learn much when we are willing to see outside of ourselves and look at many different perspectives. These can be helpful in simply understanding the world around us, but can also help us resolve conflict. It never hurts to think outside of yourself.

Natalie Davis

Copyright © 2021 Pollack Peacebuilding Systems