© Mohamed Messara/Picture alliance/dpa

Institutional Damage

Institutional Damage

War and armed conflict not only destroy buildings and physical infrastructure, but also disrupt and devastate institutional structures and capacities, especially in the case of prolonged hostilities.

Flight and the forced migration of qualified and experienced managerial, professional and administrative staff seriously weaken institutional capacities and can even lead to their collapse. The politically motivated cleansing of governance structures and public administration in order to remove potential or real opposition during the conflict, but in particular in its aftermath, can further aggravate the damage.

The assessment of physical war damage therefore needs to be complemented by an appraisal of the damage done to institutions. This assessment should be performed as soon as possible after the end of fighting.

As with the assessment of physical damage, institutional damage can be provisionally assessed while the conflict remains unresolved and before engagement on the ground becomes possible. It is crucial, however, that such an initial assessment is verified and updated once conditions on the ground are more conducive.


In order to formulate a strategy and approach for reconstruction, it is essential to assess the damage done to political and institutional structures and capacities.

Such an assessment provides the basis for identifying the options for rebuilding or the need for an overhaul. In some instances completely new structures, institutions and capacities may be required.

For the purpose of procuring support and engagement, it is important to identify the key actors, stakeholders and partners, as well as the necessary capacities and resources.

The responsibilities, roles and functions of the key actors and stakeholders during the individual stages of recovery and reconstruction will need to be clarified. These persons will focus first on institutional arrangements and urgent emergency action, such as clearing debris and restoring public safety, before taking charge of more comprehensive planning tasks and implementing reconstruction programmes.

Users and target audience

The primary users of institutional damage assessments are those who are also seeking clarity as regards responsibilities, namely the key actors who wish to promote and initiate culturally sensitive reconstruction, and have a mandate to take the necessary action.

This group is likely to include local and national government institutions, civil organisations and citizens’ initiatives. Among the other potential actors are international organisations that promote appropriate reconstruction, such as UNESCO, and multilateral or bilateral donors.

In most cases, culturally sensitive reconstruction is a sovereign activity and therefore requires a certain amount of support from state actors. If the provisionally proposed responsibilities are developed by non-governmental or external actors, they will need to be shared and discussed with the relevant state actors in order to bring about a consensus regarding an initial institutional structure.

This is all the more crucial if different actors or initiatives present diverging assessments and institutional proposals, or if pre-emptive or unhelpful institutional arrangements have already been adopted.

Approaches and instruments

Both the approaches and instruments used for an institutional damage assessment and the initial clarification of responsibilities depend on the actors wishing to perform the assessment and on the conditions that exist on the ground.

If the conflict is ongoing or a political solution is still outstanding, only an initial assessment, in the form of a desk study and relying on secondary information and research, may be possible. If feasible, such a study can be enriched with information from knowledgeable individuals, personal contacts in the relevant location, and social media. In such cases, findings and conclusions will be only tentative and preliminary, and agreements on initial institutional structures are unlikely to materialise. These matters will have to be put on hold until the situation in the field improves.

Even if interaction on the ground is possible, however, the amount of damage done to institutional structures and capacities may make it difficult to mobilise the expertise required to perform an adequate assessment, and/or to engage with partners and agree on findings, conclusions and recommendations.

In summary, the selected tools and their application have to be adapted to suit the local conditions.

Stakeholder mapping


The mapping of stakeholders is a practical instrument that has proven useful for analysing and assessing relevant parties and actors, as well as their interests, attitudes and potential roles in planning and implementing complex processes. Mapping can be applied for a variety of purposes, including project management, business administration or conflict resolution. It can also be used in the context of an institutional damage assessment.

A stakeholder map depicts actors and their relationships and roles, and typically distinguishes between:

  • key actors, who are able to use their skills, knowledge and/or position of power to make decisions or exert significant influence;
  • primary actors who are either directly affected because they stand to gain or lose power, privilege or influence, or are the beneficiaries of any intervention or action;
  • secondary actors, whose involvement or interest is only indirect or temporary, e.g. providers of specific services or inputs;
  • veto players, whose support and participation are crucial. In some cases they may be able to veto or stop a specific intervention or action. Veto players can be key, primary or secondary actors.

Given that the boundaries between these categories are usually fluid, and that relationships change over time, a stakeholder map generally provides only a snapshot of the situation existing at a particular time. It therefore needs to be updated regularly during later planning stages.

A well-prepared stakeholder map in a post-conflict setting provides an overview of all the relevant actors. It enables interested parties to draw conclusions and formulate hypotheses on the actors’ influence and their mutual relationships, power constellations and dependences, and thus offers an insight into actual and potential alliances and conflicts.

It can also help in the formulation of strategic options and ideas concerning specific actors, and in defining the contribution the actors could make to developing the vision and objectives for reconstruction.

Stakeholder mapping also provide the basis for a capacity needs assessment and for establishing an initial task force to embark on the process of recovery and reconstruction.

Capacity needs assessment

A capacity needs assessment is another instrument that can be applied to assess the institutional damage caused by an armed conflict. This often involves a comparison of necessary and existing capacities, performed by way of a gap analysis. In the specific context of a post-conflict situation, it is crucial to identify the action that needs to be taken in order to recover lost or impaired capacities quickly and in a practical and pragmatic way.

An initial capacity needs assessment is often the starting point for formulating a capacity development response:

  • The first step generally entails assessing the personnel and other resources that are still in place or can be mobilised quickly, e.g. qualified people who are willing to return or basic equipment that can be procured.
  • In a second step, the available resources can be gauged against the key qualifications, skills and resources needed to address the most urgent needs for action.
  • Finally, a strategy is developed for filling the identified capacity gaps and mobilising or procuring the necessary additional resources.

In the longer term, a more thorough capacity needs assessment will provide the basis for formulating a comprehensive capacity development strategy, in particular for building the political support and institutional capacities needed for the process of recovery and reconstruction.

In view of the lack of extensive practical experience and case studies concerning the rebuilding of personnel, institutional and political capacities following their disruption by armed conflict, both a short-term capacity development response and a longer-term strategy are needed. This policy-making calls for sensitivity, especially when addressing the challenges of social and political reconciliation between returnees who left for political and/or security reasons and those who stayed during the conflict. These individuals may have become politically compromised and may no longer be regarded as legitimate actors in the emerging post-conflict environment.

Establishing a task force

© Anette Gangler

Where possible and feasible, the mapping of stakeholders and the assessment of capacity shortages can be used as a basis for establishing an initial task force to embark on the process of recovery and reconstruction.

In a quick capacity development response, a small core team can be established to address the most urgent needs. In line with a longer-term capacity development strategy, this initial task force can later grow into a fully-fledged project team, or even an Old City reconstruction organisation.

In this emerging institutional and organisational set-up, it is important to define the key roles and responsibilities for recovering and restoring the urban cultural heritage of historic old cities. This encompasses:

  • Typical tasks and functions relating to emergency action to restore minimum public safety and security are debris clearance, the provision of temporary shelter, the repair of basic infrastructure, and the supervision and control of the initial reconstruction and repair activities of residents and businesses.
  • In the longer term, the responsibilities for managing and coordinating reconstruction planning, and for the task of planning itself, will need to be discussed and agreed. This will entail giving consideration to the institutional structures, procedures and participation mechanisms that will be required when decisions are being made about the overall vision and objectives, and to the priorities and individual phases of reconstruction.
  • Finally, the responsibilities, functions and contributions relating to implementation will have to be established and coordinated. In this context the contributions to, and sources for, financing programmes, projects and measures throughout the reconstruction process will need to be clarified.

Further Reference and Resources

Date: 24. August 2018 | Last modified: 16. August 2019

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