Measuring peacebuilding: challenges, tools, actions

Executive summary

How can the effectiveness of peacebuilding operations in countries marked by conflict be better measured? This policy brief examines the steps needed to improve the measurement of peacebuilding work, highlights the technical and political problems this work faces, and makes recommendations for action by organisations in the field.

The experience of peacebuilding initiatives around the world has in recent years led to increased efforts to develop new and improved tools to measure their effects. Many projects are already underway, led by key civilian and military actors such as the United Nations itself to defence agencies, government departments, the World Bank, and NGOs.

These various efforts reflect both the mismatch between ambitions and results in Afghanistan and Iraq and longer-term concerns about the limitations of data, methodology and practices in the area of measuring peacebuilding. There is a stark contrast here with development goals, where monitoring procedures are well established and far more data are available.

The stakes are high, in that the United Nations alone currently spends more than $7 billion every year on international peacekeeping and peacebuilding activities, and donors are increasingly pushing for improved documentation of the effects of this work. It is therefore timely to consider the needs and challenges of measuring peacebuilding, and what practical steps the relevant organisations need to take to develop their capacities at every level.

The challenges are many and varied. They include improving the quality of the strategic  information that will be produced and used in decision-making, which in turn means developing the methodologies and procedures for collecting and processing data; recognising the technical limits presented by the difficulty of correlating particular peacebuilding activities to system-wide effects; addressing the tendency to focus more on achievements by acknowledging failures and risks, and achieving a better balance in reporting; being aware of the influence of assumptions and ideas that might influence  conclusions in ways the evidence may not support; and, crucially, factoring in detailed attention to local contexts, thus avoiding dependency on “universal” standards or theories in reaching conclusions, which can make the measurement less connected to ground-level realities.

To meet these and other challenges related to measuring the effects of peace operations, there is a need to build capacity in the field within organisations involved in peacekeeping and peacebuilding, including the UN; promote organisational cultures and systems that take diversity, uncertainty and risk into account; and develop data-collection systems and databases that accord with peacebuilding perspectives and needs. A key activity ahead should be to integrate the new perspectives, methodological approaches, and guidelines in the field of peacebuilding monitoring and evaluation.