Design, Monitoring and Evaluation for Peacebuilding

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Our Top 3 DM&E Takeaways from Alliance for Peacebuilding’s Annual Conference: Challenges to the Peacebuilding Community in a Turbulent World

Author, Copyright Holder: 
Jared Miller, Search for Common Ground
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If you were to tune in to any major media network, you would be inundated with reports of violence and instability all over the world.  What is the peacebuilding community doing about it?  Last week, Alliance for Peacebuilding began its annual conference at USIP and sought to answer this question, and to ask what can the peacebuilding community be doing better?   Here are our top three monitoring and evaluation takeaways from the conference’s opening day:

1. Evidence Matters, So Use it


Evidence matters, a lot. It is essential in how we understand what works and also to how we tell our success stories. This sentiment was echoed across panels by practitioners, funders, experts and policymakers.  Everyone was looking for evidence, so let’s actually use what we have!  

There is a persistent perception that the peacebuilding field lacks evidence, but this is not the reality of innovative work coming from peacebuilding DM&E.  The evidence is out there, we just need to pay attention to it.  DME for Peace has an entire section of our resource library devoted to just evaluations.  Here are just a few other sources for peacebuilding evidence: 3ie’s page devoted to evidence, OECD’s evalutions, Search for Common Ground’s evaluations, USAID’s evaluation clearing house, and the list goes on.  The problem is not a lack of evidence, the problem is that we are not always using it.

Evidence is an essential part of telling our stories and demonstrating success in peacebuilding.  When we tell stories about the impact of peacebuilding programs, we often share anecdotes of how a program or project affected an individual,the human face behind the program.  This speaks to the heart of peacebuilding, the focus on humanity that drives so many to continue their work in some of the most difficult situations around the world.  This part of the story of peacebuilding is essential, yet if we are to communicate the results outside the peacebuilding community - whether it is to policymakers or funders-  we must be able to speak to broader results and impact.   Let’s stop talking about a lack of evidence, and focus on how we unpack what already exists so that is more accessible and useful.

2. Peacebuilding is Interdisciplinary: Bringing in the Scientific Community

At first glance of the agenda, seeing a Neuroscientist as a panelist at a conference on peacebuilding may have raised some eyebrows, but Dr. Emile Bruneau took the opportunity to shake up attendees’ thinking on peacebuilding, tying practice to the science of the mind.


Bruneau began his presentation saying “What is important is to recognize how we think.”  Bruneau explained neurologically how our brains process decisions, making the analogy of our brain as similar to a rider and an elephant, where the rider is the  conscious mind, and the elephant is the subconscious mind. The rider may reflect and choose an action to pursue, but the elephant is not guaranteed to react in the way the rider intends.  Any action is a combination of how the rider and elephant interact. Peacebuilding programs often only target the rider, and Bruneau claims that this can have unintended consequences because it ignores the elephant in our mind, the subconscious.   

Bruneau presented neuroscience as a tool for a deeper understanding of how peacebuilding programs actually affect an individual, both consciously and subconsciously. Raising important questions on how we examine the effect of programs and the human context in which programs operate.

The larger question raised, inexplicity, was what other disciplines can lead to better understanding of how to build peace?  Interdisciplinary and peacebuilding seem to be inseparable, but how open-minded are we really about what interdisciplinary means?   Are we really utilizing all of our tools in understanding what works and why in peacebuilding?  DME for Peace looks forward to being a part of these evolving discussions, and hopes our readers will share this innovative type of work back to the community.

3. These Are Not New Questions

Dr. Thania Paffenholz, a panelist on Silencing Voices: The Crisis of Shrinking Civil Society Space Around the World made the point, “we know a lot, we’re not just starting from scratch but it seems we always are. We have been talking about the same issues for the past ten years and yet our programming looks the same.  Why?”  Paffenholz’s point raises great questions about how as are we as a field institutionalizing knowledge, and how are we actually using gained knowledge? Is the feedback loop complete?  If not, where are the blockages and how do we overcome them?  

These questions tie back to the first takeaway point: evidence matters.  If we are to stop reinventing the wheel, we need to understand what already exists.  To fully answer Thania’s question, we must also consider her final point, what are the blockages preventing knowledge gained over the years from affecting programs? From staff turnover to evaluations not being read, there are many challenges to institutionalizing knowledge and ensuring that knowledge is used.  Cheyanne Scharbatke-Church, a specialist in designing and assessing program effectiveness, recently gave a Thursday Talk on how to adapt organizational culture in order to maximize the contributions of M&E systems to an achieving an organization’s mission.    In the talk, Scharbatke-Church gives examples of how to identify blockages and strategies for overcoming them, something we all can learn from.  We’ve also started a discussion page with tips on how to capture lessons learned transfer them into institutional knowledge and memory.  

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The conference on democracy and peacebuilding became a platform from which to ask larger questions and pose challenges to the peacebuilding community.  From the emphasis on evidence and use, to looking to nontraditional disciplines for innovative peacebuilding tools, Alliance for Peacebuilding’s conference provided an important space for discussion in a truly turbulent time.  

DME for Peace is a space for shared learning and collaboration with peacebuilding colleagues around the world, so please join in the discussion and share your thoughts on the many questions posed above.  USIP has published the recording of the first day of the conference along with a summary of the events.