Solutions to Violent Conflict

Adopting Stray Dogs & Mending Broken Windows: Everyday Peace Indicators

In Peace on February 20, 2013 at 5:20 pm
Traditional Door

Painted storefronts may be a sign of confidence in peace.

Roger Mac Ginty

Most indicators of peace, development, and reconstruction are top-down — designed and identified by international organizations and political leaders in New York, London, or Geneva. Surveys are “done to” war-affected communities, turning local people from war-affected areas into sources of data or survey enumerators. Top-down indicators often rely on national-level statistics that bear little relation to the lived experience of conflict. They risk subsuming local experiences into a national story.

The Everyday Peace Indicator project — a project of the Kroc Institute, the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, and the University of Manchester — aims to investigate alternative, bottom-up indicators of peace. Funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the project will operate in five sub-Saharan countries. Taking its cue from studies in sustainable development, the project will ask community members to identify their own measures of peace.

THE VOICE OF LOCAL COMMUNITIES

Everyday Peace indicators are likely to be different from the top-down indicators. For example, local indicators might refer to everyday aspects of life such as getting the kids to school or food to market. They may even include the adoption of stray dogs (a sign of surplus food) or the painting of storefronts (a sign that local business people have confidence in peace).

The Everyday Peace Indicator project will begin by holding focus groups in association with local nongovernmental organizations. They will ask community members to identify indicators of peace and change that are locally meaningful. These indicators will then form part of a questionnaire that is put to the wider community.

The adoption of stray dogs may be a sign of surplus food; the painting of storefronts may be a sign of confidence in peace.

The survey will operate at the village, neighborhood, or valley level rather than the county or city level. It will be run again six months later to gauge change over time. The survey will be managed locally by community-based nongovernmental organizations. The indicators/survey questions will be in local languages, and the survey results will be shared with the local communities.

COMPLEMENTING TOP-DOWN INDICATORS

We are eager to learn how local individuals and communities define peace and change. Will they identify prosaic and everyday variables connected with farming or household life? If so our challenge as researchers will be to avoid “romanticizing the local” — seeing local respondents as depoliticized and only interested in the immediate tasks and pleasures of life. Maybe survey respondents will adopt the language used by political leaders, international nongovernment organizations, or the media. If this is the case, we might be able to draw conclusions on the extent to which “the local” is globalized and takes its cue from external influences. It also will be fascinating to see if there are significant gender or generational differences in the survey data.

We anticipate that everyday indicators can complement orthodox, top-down indicators. Peacebuilding and conflict recovery policy depend on accurate information. Localized information is more likely to be accurate than national-level aggregate data that relies on statistics collected (and sometimes “massaged”) by national statistics offices.

SHAPING POLICY AND THINKING

Localized data should help donors and other conflict-responders tailor their policies to local needs. Expressed in a local language and idiom, the localized data also should allow communities to gain an accurate self-portrait.

The process of identifying local peace indicators could be valuable in itself: allowing community members a space to list issues that are important to them, unprompted by government or external actors. In deeply divided societies, such opportunities are rare and are often monopolized by political leaders who seek to speak on behalf of a community.

Localized data should help donors tailor policies to local needs and allow communities to identify issues that are important to them.

Of course, “understanding the local” does not offer a panacea. National and regional elites have to act in concert to help reduce violence. International agencies are often the only actors with the capacity to offer large-scale security or state-building assistance.

Yet there is a real danger that local issues will be written out of peace processes and subsumed into national processes. The Everyday Peace Indicators project is a way to enhance the voice of local communities and remind us of the bias in our own thinking about peace and conflict.

Roger Mac Ginty is professor of peace and conflict studies, Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute, University of Manchester, United Kingdom.