Jason Terry on Challenges in Evaluating Peacebuilding Activities

My name is Jason Terry and I’m an international education professional by day and a conflict resolution trainer and human rights advocate by night, working with youth and low-income LGBT people in the District of Columbia.  Like some of the other folks who have posted here, I’m also not an evaluator, but I strongly believe that projects to promote peace and justice must be kept accountable to the people they’re designed to serve.

Before one can even think about evaluating a peacebuilding project, you must consider whether the goal is to establish negative peace (simply ending violence) or positive peace (addressing the structural injustices and inequalities that led to violence in the first place).  Page Fortna‘s study of the durability of cease-fires after war suggested that agreements and programs that address these deeper issues are in fact more durable than those that simply try to keep belligerents in their respective corners.  Thus negative peace is pretty hard to maintain if underlying structural violence isn’t addressed.

So then what does peacebuilding — the act of creating positive peace — mean for evaluators?  First, regardless of whether the project is targeted at a village or a whole country, one must bear in mind that peacebuilding involves a huge array of internal actors.  Additionally, transforming unjust societies takes time — usually decades.  Any given peacebuilding project is usually only chipping away at one of myriad injustices.  Thus one needs to look at some key indicators that peace is taking root.  Is the political structure becoming more inclusive?  Do children have equal access to quality education at all levels?  Are income and employment disparities relatively even among various groups?  Is the media used as a tool for promoting common purpose or for driving wedges between communities?  How well is one project coordinated with other projects working in the same setting?  Are local folks involved in identifying problems and solutions, or is peace being imposed from the outside?

Rad resource:  Are you a would-be do-gooder looking to learn fast?  Check out the Little Books of Justice and Peacebuilding, particularly Lisa Schirch‘s Little Book of Strategic Peacebuilding.  The University of Colorado’s CR Info website is also a valuable and easily searchable resource, available at www.crinfo.org.

Rad resource:  For a more intensive discussion of a few different peacebuilding program evaluations, check out this interview with Eileen Babbitt of Tufts University’s Fletcher School.  Her more recent works explore these issues in greater depth.

This contribution is from the aea365 Daily Tips blog, by and for evaluators, from the American Evaluation Association. Please consider contributing – send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org.

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