"Reclaiming Everyday Peace: Local Voices in Measurement and Evaluation After War" by Pamina Firchow
On November 29, 2018 the United States Institute of Peace hosted an event entitled, “Building Peace from the Bottom Up: Postwar Peacebuilding and Local-Level Intervention” to mark the publication of Pamina Firchow’s book Reclaiming Everyday Peace: Local Voices in Measurement and Evaluation After War, which is dedicated to amplifying the voices of people who may be marginalized or silenced in peacebuilding and development work.
The event was co-sponsored by the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University, with Dean Kevin Avruch delivering opening remarks in which he described Dr. Firchow’s work as “an important contribution, inter alia, to the ethics of practice and the ethics of peacebuilding.” Dean Avruch emphasized that Dr. Firchow’s research is a critical step in “the trajectory of looking at the local and looking at context in a very methodologically rigorous way” suggesting that Reclaiming Everyday Peace “will have resonance not only in the world of peace theory and peace science, but in the world of practice.”
The event was an opportunity for Dr. Firchow to share the ethos and findings of her important research on everyday peace indicators, which is guided by an overarching research question, “How do we measure peace and what are the results?” Her book, Reclaiming Everyday Peace, provides a conceptual and methodological discussion about the utility of participatory numbers — those generated from the bottom-up, and explores the challenges with top-down measurement approaches of difficult to measure concepts such as peace and reconciliation, which Dr. Firchow argues are external and prioritize expert indicators instead of local ones.
She began her remarks by sharing how she came to this work early on in her career as an activist and peacebuilder working on disarmament and conventional weapons issues in Washington DC and London. “I was bothered by the patronizing ways in which we would prescribe solutions for war affected countries and communities without consulting them first or considering that they may have the knowledge to help combat issues related to their own peace and security,” she explained.
During her time working at the University of Notre Dame, in a meeting she describes as fortuitous, Dr. Firchow teamed up with colleague Roger Mac Ginty, co-founder of Everyday Peace Indicators (EPI). What began as a conversation in the hallway of their department led to funding by the Carnegie Corporation of New York to pilot the utility and potential of everyday indicators for measurement and evaluation after war. This initial research, which began in sub-Saharan Africa, eventually extended to Colombia and became the basis for Reclaiming Everyday Peace, has now expanded to projects across the globe including Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, with additional projects planned for East and West Africa and Colombia in 2019.
The publication of this book comes at a critical moment. As the development and peacebuilding fields become increasingly professionalized, the quantification and measurement of impact in these sectors has skyrocketed, and evidence based decision making has become the norm. Dr. Firchow explained how the everyday peace indicators approach to measurement and evaluation offers a method for connecting local knowledge with broader development and peacebuilding initiatives, by systematically capturing locally generated indicators, which are then analyzed to quantitatively show local levels of peacefulness.
“Instead of using everyday people exclusively as data sources like more traditional approaches do, the everyday indicators involve people in the generation of the tools to collect the data, as well as sourcing them of data. This approach also increases measurement validity, because we are able to be more certain that what we are measuring is peace or reconciliation, or whatever difficult to measure concept we are trying to say something about, according to local definitions of what that means to people in a particular locality,” she explained.
Findings discussed in Reclaiming Everyday Peace have major implications for how the field measures peace conceptually, as well as how peacebuilding effectiveness is evaluated on a project level. Dr. Firchow’s research demonstrates the importance of including localities in the generation of statistics and numbers, and underscores the value of indigenous technical knowledge to inform peacebuilding and development practice. In her concluding remarks, Dr. Firchow emphasized, “The everyday peace indicators, and the wider field of participatory numbers, has incredible potential to help us advocate on behalf of marginalized people, where their needs and priorities may get lost in an increasingly quantitative world that prioritizes numbers for policy change and guidance.”
Following her address, Dr. Firchow was joined by a panel of colleagues who engaged in an interesting and lively conversation around the EPI methodology and possible implications this approach has for the peacebuilding field. The panel was facilitated by Kathleen Kuehnast, Director of Gender Policy and Strategy at USIP, and included Roger Mac Ginty, Professor at the School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University, Anthony Wanis-St. John, Associate Professor at the School of International Services, American University, David Connolly, Director of Learning, Evaluation and Research at USIP, and Kevin Avruch, Dean of the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University.
During the panel session, co-founder of EPI, Dr. Mac Ginty, had an opportunity to discuss how he sees the everyday peace indicators project, “What’s interesting in thinking about indicators is how we lead very local lives, all of us. These are lives that are rooted and networked and relational.” He remarked, “At some point that story was written out of how we measure and how we conceptualize peace and transitions towards peace. The Everyday Peace Indicators project is a way of trying to capture that. Of trying to take seriously aspects of life that are sometimes easily dismissed as being anecdotal, as being too local, and therefore unable to be factored up or unable to tell us anything about a wider area.”
For Dr. Wanis St.John, “The EPI concept was immediately attractive, and almost seductive intellectually, because of the way it pulls attention to the shortcomings of our almost imperial and post-colonial ways of trying to help, and our thinking that we know better than the folks we are trying to help, how to help them.” Dr. Connolly touched on what he sees as the contribution of EPI to recognizing and providing an empirical basis for the shift toward participatory research. Building on comments by Dr. Avruch, he explained that the field initially thought of communities “as part of processes of development, or of conflict resolution and peacebuilding,” but this has evolved to “actually recognizing them as drivers of these types of processes,” and that, he argues, “is a huge shift that the scholarly research is trying to keep up with, alongside practitioners and policymakers.”
Though, as Dr. Mac Ginty remarked, this shift has not always been smooth. Dr. Mac Ginty explained, “One of the nice things about EPI is that it allows us to listen to narratives and ways of thinking that are disruptive, that are awkward. That differ from the neatly packaged language that I might prefer as a scholar, and that many people in this room prefer as a practitioners. One of the things that I welcome from this project is the disruption that it has caused in my thinking.” He concluded, “I think that’s a good thing, because it challenges us all.”
Dr. Firchow’s book, Reclaiming Everyday Peace: Local Voices in Measurement and Evaluation is now available in hardback, paperback and digital formats. A future book launch event is scheduled for December 13, 2018, co-hosted by the Carnegie Foundation of New York and the International Peace Institute, which will include a panel discussion featuring Professor Severine Autessere, Graeme Simpson and Michelle Breslauer. Click here for more information.
For a full audio and video replay of the USIP event, please visit: http://usip.org/events/building-peace-bottom