Session 5:
Contextual analysis: a framework for understanding challenges

This is a summary of the threats and challenges presented on Day One – in a clear format, and ideally written up on a flipchart. After the presentation, participants should be given an opportunity to discuss and make comments.


Presentation on context, followed by a group discussion.

Session objectives:

  • to consolidate and summarise the challenges and threats presented by participants on Day One; and
  • to provide structure for developing practical strategies by identifying key challenges and threats.

Adaptation notes:

This session can range from highly structured (with a semi-formal written presentation as shown below) to less formal (reporting back to participants).

Facilitation notes:

This is a particularly useful process for groups that are struggling to shift from discussing the larger political aspects of their security challenges – that is, the underlying causes and drivers of insecurity in their context – to the specific challenges and threats that they, and their organisations, are facing. For example, while patriarchy, conflict and rising fundamentalism are key factors in the creation of an insecure environment for women human rights defenders, they are not the specific challenges that participants need to address at an integrated security workshop. Rather, the threat of rape, attacks on family members, aggressive slander in the media and/or kidnapping are the kind of very specific challenges that participants should seek to address on Day Two. An example of a contextual analysis prepared for the South Caucasus Integrated Security Workshop in 2009 is set out below:

Contextual Analysis

What are the key contextual challenges in our overall environment?

  • Historic 'waves'
    (Nationalism, Post-communism, the Rose Revolution)
  • Economic pressures
  • International relations
  • Conflict ("post and "pre")
  • Rising Fundamentalisms
  • Patriarchy/"culture"
  • "Imitation" Democracies

How do these challenges affect our operating environment?


  • Violence against women
  • Criminal influences/pressure
  • Threats to independence and freedom


  • Financial support
  • Community support
  • Respect and protection
  • Freedom of expression
  • Freedom of movement

What are the priority threats to activists and our work?

Legal and administrative pressures from the State

Risk of physical violence

Slander/ defamation

Psychological and physical health

Threats to family (and from family)

Restrictive NGO laws

Financial restrictions against NGO sector

Beatings, rape

Border crossings

Arrest, detention, hostage-taking, disappearance

Physical threats against family members; psycological pressure, economic pressure

'Criminalisation' - calling activists spies, traitors, terrorists

Uncertainty (don't know the future, can't plan). causes stress

Difficulty in establishing psychological boundaries in the face of violence

Effects on physlcal health

Physical threats against family members; psychological pressure, economic pressure

Family members don't agree with the work, try to restrict you