IPI and the Carnegie Corporation of New York held a policy forum on December 13th predicated on the notion that local communities—those most directly impacted and living the realities of violent conflict—are the experts on the problems they face, and therefore should be the ones, rather than outside experts, to define what peace means in their contexts and how to measure success in achieving this peace. The UN’s Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace Resolutions emphasize the prioritization of the local and ensuring that the work of the international community compliments and supports the initiatives of local actors. In order to operationalize this line of thinking there is a need for greater understanding among international peacebuilding practitioners and policymakers of the work of local peacebuilders in building and sustaining peace.
In line with this, this panel discussion focused on the role of participatory approaches to understanding what peace means in different communities and what progress in achieving this peace looks like. Specifically, this panel looked at the work of the Everyday Peace Indicators (EPI) and the book Reclaiming Everyday Peace: Local Voices in Measurement and Evaluation after War, authored by one of the panelists, Pamina Firchow, Assistant Professor of Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University.
Measurement should be based on “the needs and priorities of recipients of assistance rather than just the understandings of what outside actors and experts believe is necessary,” Dr. Firchow said. And measuring local priorities, she argued, provides the necessary statistical evidence to come up with and promote relevant policy. “Without numbers behind something, there is really no hope for advocating on its behalf. Therefore, these numbers, which are usually based on indicators, are of incredible importance.”
She explained, “The everyday indicators use existing information based on what I call indigenous technical knowledge. That is the body of knowledge generated or acquired by local people through the accumulation of everyday experiences, community interactions and trial and error that people use in their daily lives to determine whether they are more or less at peace.”
This local focus is critical for sustaining peace, she said, “since the majority of top-down attempts at measuring peace use indicators that focus primarily on violence reduction and therefore may miss important elements of what comprises the actual building of peace after war.”
Stephen Del Rosso, Program Director, International Peace and Security at the Carnegie Corporation of New York, praised Dr. Firchow’s research, saying it spoke to the concerns that his organization had in this area. “We [at the Carnegie Corporation] are particularly interested in this meddlesome question of evaluating the peacebuilding interventions that have taken place in the world, particularly given the rather spotty record of top-down approaches developed in the global north.”
Séverine Autesserre, Professor of Political Science at Barnard College, Columbia University, commented on the approach, saying it represented a fundamental shift in strategy. “The usual international approach is to ignore these kind of local initiatives,” she said. “Instead, we should fund, protect, and support these local initiatives so that we’ve reinforced them. We need to build on local expertise, and we need to involve in the design, planning, and evaluation of international programs not only the elite based in national capitals and headquarters but also local beneficiaries, local leaders, and ordinary citizens. So to me it’s important that we involve these people in the design and in the implementation of the actual initiatives in addition to involving them in the design of monitoring and evaluation strategies.”
She cited from her upcoming new book—On the Frontlines of Peace—the example of Idjwi, an island in Lake Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo, that has maintained peace in a country marked by widespread conflict. “What’s fascinating about Idjwi is that order comes not through police, cameras, guns, and ammunition but through local participation. The island is peaceful because of the active everyday involvement of all of its citizens, including the poorest and least powerful ones,” she said. “It is not the army, the state, or the police who manage to control tensions, and it’s not foreign peacebuilders or any outsiders. It is the members of the community themselves.”
She said the example of Idjwi shows that “local community resources can build peace better than the usual elite agreements and outside interventions that we usually focus on when we evaluate peacebuilding efforts.”
Michelle Breslauer, Program Director, Americas, for the Institute for Economics and Peace, said she welcomed the current move away from measuring things like armed conflict and towards a positive peace index based on what she called the Eight Positive Pillars of Peace. She identified these pillars as well-functioning Government, Sound Business Environment, Equitable Distribution of Resources, Acceptance of the Rights of Others, Good Relations with Neighbors, Free Flow of Information, High Levels of Human Capital, and Low Levels of Corruption.
“Simply addressing the factors that led to violence in the past will not be enough to sustain peace,” she said. “Improvements in peace require broader and more systemic strategies than we currently think. Peacebuilding needs to be solution- rather than problem-oriented.”
Graeme Simpson, Director of Interpeace USA, singled out what he saw as a seriously missed opportunity in how the peacebuilding community views youth. “The international community, driven by policy assumptions and policy myths, is investing massively in youth as a risk, instead of recognizing this unbelievable, creative, resourceful space of resilient youth peacebuilding, which offers a powerful alternative and arguably more effective preventive measure for investing in youth-led peacebuilding.” Youth, he asserted, are actually “an asset, a source of resilience, a vehicle for peacebuilding.”
He decried the “terrible stereotyping which treats young people as almost inherently associated with violence.” The consequences of this for youth involvement are serious, he said. “Young people were saying to us, these stereotypes completely deprive them of any sense of agency, their role as peacebuilders.”
He urged partnering with young people in a way that respected their interests and choices and didn’t impose outsiders’ traditional and unoriginal attitudes on them. “The gravest danger,” he said, “is that we start demanding impact assessments and measurement tools, the linear approach that we’ve talked about, that log frame them out of existence, that basically destroy the very risk-taking and innovation that make some of the outcomes of what they’re doing unpredictable.”
This event is part of the series of events IPI held in 2018 looking at what peace means in different contexts, how to measure peace and how to collect evidence of progress towards achieving peace. As the international community grapples with how to best support effective peacebuilding efforts, IPI has, and will continue to play, a bridging role between the local and the global, bringing concrete examples from the ground on what works and what is needed to more effectively build and sustain long-lasting peace.
IPI Senior Policy Analyst Lesley Connolly moderated the discussion.