Edinburgh Global

Achieving political settlements in fragile and conflict-affected states

One of the largest research projects of the Global Justice Academy is the Political Settlements Research Programme (PSRP), which examines how to achieve inclusive and open political settlements in fragile and conflict-affected states.

We spoke to Dr Harriet Cornell, Development Officer at the Global Justice Academy. She told us about the work the PSRP will undertake, the outcomes it will produce and some of the opportunities for students to get involved.

About the Global Justice Academy

The Global Justice Academy (GJA) here at the University of Edinburgh is an inter-disciplinary network that brings together staff, students and practitioners who address global justice issues in their work from across all three Colleges in the University.

It is an intellectual meeting place in which to develop novel ideas regarding a more just world and a forum for dialogue with practitioners engaged in justice issues locally and globally.

They support research, teaching and knowledge exchange on global issues and seek to expand, consolidate and expand the work of existing centre and collaborations at the University.

Their particular areas of interest include peace, justice and human rights, urban justice and gender justice.

Peace settlements

The GJA leads in a number of major research projects. One of the largest is the Political Settlements Research Programme (PSRP), which examines how to achieve inclusive and open political settlements in fragile and conflict-affected states.

Peace settlements are often drafted to end conflict, but there is a risk of disregarding certain populations in the process, often in an attempt to gain agreement between the parties. Marginalised populations may be heavily affected by peace settlements, but don’t always have the leverage or access to peace negotiations to have their concerns reflected in peace agreements.

That is why Political Settlements examines not only the process and outcomes, but who is involved, and how the central issues to be resolved as part of the conflict resolution effort are understood and framed.

What is the Political Settlements Research Programme?

The PSRP is a four-year research programme worth £4.4m, granted by the Department for International Development (DFID), undertaken by a North-South Consortium led by the GJA, with Professor Christine Bell from Edinburgh Law School as the PSRP Programme Director.

The global partners in the Consortium are Conciliation Resources in London, Institute for Security Studies in South Africa, Rift Valley Institute which works in East Africa, and the Transitional Justice Institute in Belfast. Professor Christine Bell is the PSRP Programme Director.

The consortium comprises an interesting mix of academics and peacebuilding and development practice-based organisations, and uses ‘praxis’ research as a key methodology. The University of Edinburgh staff involved are drawn from both Law and the School of Social and Political Science (SPS).

The Programme is particularly interested in how inclusive political settlements are, and what that means for peace processes, their longevity, and relative success.

Harriet CornellDevelopment Officer, Global Justice Academy

One of the central issues for the research programme is inclusivity, so that those who are most affected by the settlements – those of all races and genders – are represented. According to Harriet, “the Programme is particularly interested in how inclusive political settlements are, and what that means for peace processes, their longevity, and relative success.”

This approach affects not just the content of the research but how we conduct it. Whilst the PSRP includes Northern and Southern researchers, it has a significant ‘research capacity-building’ element focused on researchers in the Global South. This diversity means the “PSRP is able to offer the comprehensive outcomes promised, in terms of data, reports, publications, and the expert knowledge and information that DFID seeks.”

This is also the case for gender, for which there is a dedicated research theme.

“One of our starting points in the project was to observe that gender has been omitted from political settlement analysis, and so we particularly focus on how women locally and transnationally have been able to intervene and influence political settlements, how international law is used by women internally to achieve change, and the difficulties of gender and institutional transformation.”

A Series of images by Robert Henderson, commissioned by the Political Settlements Research Programme in May 2015


, commissioned by the Political Settlements R

How does this benefit students?

The insights learned by the PSRP will be passed on to students at varying degrees of their academic tenure. According to Harriet, “PSRP heavily informs research-led teaching on the GJA's flagship programme, the LLM Human Rights.” The Human Rights and Conflict Resolution course draws heavily on what we have learnt from this programme.

This is not only through the curriculum, but through teaching as well. Members of the PSRP research team have led guest seminars, “which have lent critical practitioner perspectives to the course.” The LLM also offers work-based placements as an alternative to traditional dissertations, and up to six are opened up to students with the PSRP.” Students can be placed in any of the six research themes to gain experience. PhD students also have the opportunity to benefit, as there are PhD researchers at the Programme “that have helped build critical mass around conflict and peace research.” Indeed, from the 2017-18 academic year, the GJA will be offering scholarships to LLM candidates.

Students also can receive their newsletter by joining their mailing list, which circulates all the latest PSRP news, events and developments.

Final thoughts

The PSRP project illustrates the way in which the GJA is trying to innovate in working across academic and practitioner boundaries as well as our approach to research-led teaching.

The PSRP provides scholars at the University of Edinburgh the opportunity to re-evaluate the structure, efficacy and inclusivity of political settlements, so that we may improve them in the future. The allocation of funds set aside to exploring this meaningful topic and the commitment to diverse dialogue within the consortium will empower the communities that may have been marginalised in the past.

To be updated with the latest news about the Political Settlements Research Programme, please subscribe to their newsletter.

Political Settlements Research Programme