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Effective Adviser's Handbook

A resource for professionals working in complex contexts.
By Anita Ernstorfer, Nora Refaeil and Jan Ubels.

About the Hanbook

Rooted in the Effective Advising in Complex Settings course that Interpeace’s Advisory Team (IPAT) has delivered since 2014, this Handbook brings together a carefully tailored selection of key concepts and tools that will help professionals shape their roles as effective advisers. It focuses on the needs of national and international advisers from the development, humanitarian and peacebuilding sectors – and beyond. The content of the Effective Advising in Complex Contexts course is based on a systems thinking and complexity approach.

Reflecting the profiles of course participants, the Handbook addresses the concerns of advisers who work in settings wrestling with conflict and violence, complex social change and transformation, and polarisation. The content has proved to be relevant to advisers from across all continents and who work in a variety of contexts and institutions: non-governmental organizations (NGOs), governments, bi- and multi-lateral organizations, think tanks, private foundations, the military etc. It is for use by people of all nationalities, and all ages and identities.

The Handbook presents a mix of “ingredients” that one can combine to reflect their personal situation and preferences. Advisers need to be skilled in many domains; for example, they need technical expertise, interpersonal skills, and process facilitation or change management skills. This Handbook does not pretend to cover all the skills one may require. Instead, it provides a number of foundational concepts and frameworks that can help define one’s work and choose an approach for varying work settings. The frameworks and concepts are simple and nuanced enough to be used by advisers with different skills and can be adapted as required for local settings and specific assignments.

The Effective Adviser's Handbook

The Effective Adviser’s Handbook is available to download for all. It is our hope that the Handbook will support the personal learning journeys of professionals around the world, helping them in their efforts to become more effective and conscious in their various advisory roles

Sign up to download the Handbook

In principle, the Handbook can be used without participating in the course – however, the learning effect will probably be less. If you use this Handbook without participating in the course, we recommend that you combine it with wider exchanges with peers and personal reflection.

Why a focus on advising?

Often playing the role of “backstage” changemakers, advisors can increase impact, promote sustainability and inspire transformation. Consequently, it is key for advisors to analyse their own perceptions of change and understand the degree to which their perceptions match the perceptions of others. The course and Handbook seek to do this by providing a space for conscious reflection on one’s own personal professional practice.

We recognise that the multi-faceted challenges faced by the development, humanitarian, and peacebuilding sectors can at times feel overwhelming. As individuals, we simply cannot “fix” all these issues. However, we can reflect on the complex dynamics at play and listen to those around us to carefully identify leverage points for change that are manageable and lead to positive outcomes that support the flourishing of more peaceful societies.

The personal and relational dimensions of advising are many: the relationships between advisers and those they advise, between advisers and the hierarchies of their organizations and professional settings, or between advisers and local partners or donors. The role of advisers is especially extensive and multi-faceted in settings affected by conflict, political transitions, or socio-economic or climate stress. Here too, advisers are often key influencers: they promote change from within, play insider-outsider roles, make connections, build key relationships, and contribute fresh perspectives.

Usage and distribution of the Handbook

This publication is published by Interpeace, co-authored by Anita Ernstorfer, Nora Refaeil and Jan Ubels, and co-edited by Maryjo Cartier. This publication can be used, copied and redistributed free of charge with appropriate acknowledgement and citation. If readers transform and build upon the material, appropriate credit and an indication of changes should be made. If specific tools from third party sources are used, appropriate credit should be given to this Handbook as well as the source of the original tool. This publication can be shared and used in any medium or format. This publication cannot be used for commercial purposes.

Suggested citation: “Ernstorfer, A., Refaeil, N. & Ubels, J. (2022), “The Effective Adviser’s Handbook: A resource for professionals working in complex contexts”, Interpeace Advisory Team.”

If you have any questions linked to the Handbook, please reach out to the Effective Advising Team: effectiveadvising@interpeace.org.


The creation of this Handbook was made possible thanks to the support of the Expert Pool for Civilian Peacebuilding of the Peace and Human Rights Division of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, and Global Affairs Canada. They have provided far more than financial support. Their long-term commitment and belief in the need to tackle “effective advising” for the wider benefit of the sector enabled the course to continuously adapt and stay relevant.

The views presented in this Handbook are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of Interpeace or the funders.

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