How to strengthen peacebuilding

In a panel hosted on Tuesday, March 7 at the United States Institute of Peace, peacebuilding professionals assembled to discuss how to improve their field. The panel was moderated by Melanie Greenberg from Alliance for Peacebuilding and included Leslie Wingender from Mercy Corps, Isabella Jean from Collaborative Learning, Joe Hewitt from USIP, and Adrienne Lemon from Search for Common Ground.

Greenberg opened the panel by framing the conversation around how best to measure impact, tell stories, and make the case for peacebuilding. She asked the panelists to discuss challenges around design, learning, and monitoring and evaluation from their experience.

Lemon and Wingender both discussed challenges in the field working with diverse groups of country teams across different contexts. The challenges Lemon identified included how to address varying ideas of success and impact while maintaining an understanding of each context as well as how to capture long term changes in behavior and outcome to best tell a story. Similarly, Wingender felt that while there needed to be different monitoring and evaluation systems for different contexts, it is possible to make connections across localities to subsequently make the process of handing over programs and creating continuity easier.

From the perspective of program design and accountability measures, Hewitt and Jean saw the need to document failures, develop lessons learned, and maintain a rigorous monitoring and evaluation approach. Hewitt said that having a clear and transparent theory of change from the outset will result in huge payoffs in outcomes in the end. Developing a clear and nuanced theory of change also forces peacebuilders to become comfortable with failure and develop learning cultures, which serves to grow the field further.

Jean also emphasized a learning culture in her discussion of standards for the peacebuilding sector, a lack that makes it difficult to measure effectiveness. She also pointed to institutional behaviors as determining what type of data might be privileged over others and what information is solicited and valued, which in turn can affect how decision makers treat different evaluative exercises.

Another theme the panelists discussed was bright spots in their work and the collective impact. Lemon focused on prioritizing transparency and open discussion around monitoring and evaluation and data capture. Jean also discussed reflective exercises used to develop effectiveness criteria in the absence of standards. Wingender and Hewitt looked at integration efforts within the field designed to unify tools and knowledge across contexts. Wingender advocated for cross-sectional analysis to compare situations, better articulate a theory of change, and think through different programs and their goals. Hewitt praised the field’s consensus on the drivers of violence and armed conflict, pointing to broken or frayed social contracts as the main cause. He saw the opportunity for individual peacebuilding programs that operate at different parts of the state/society relationship to aggregate and address the broader structural conditions that add up to fragility.

The panelists also addressed the difficulties of creating vertical (state/society) and horizontal (within society) cohesion and bringing different identity groups together for peace. Hewitt noted that bringing people together who have historically been in conflict can and does work, but vertical and horizontal cohesion does not happen independent of state institutions. Jean said that single-identity work is also effective and saw the difficulty of vertical and horizontal cohesion when state structures restrict civil society space.

Another difficulty the field continues to face is in data gathering and sharing. Wingender highlighted the issue of putting technology ahead of ethics, saying it is difficult to share data while also providing protection. Lemon also pointed to caution in sharing data.

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