For decades, calls for greater attention to local, everyday experiences in peacebuilding have been growing. Yvette Selim and Roger Mac Ginty discuss Everyday Peace Indicators’ bottom-up participatory approach to understanding and tracking changes in difficult-to-measure concepts like peace, reconciliation and governance in conflict-affected communities.
Efforts to build peace and their success have often been measured using indicators derived by outside experts and scholars. These traditional, top-down monitoring and evaluation systems are useful, but they often neglect the views, insights and experiences of everyday people in communities affected by violence, the people the peacebuilding interventions and programmes are intended to assist. To address the concerns about top-down peacebuilding efforts, the Everyday Peace Indicators’ (EPI) research approach was developed by Roger Mac Ginty and Pamina Firchow, based on a long history of critical scholarship in international relations and peace and conflict studies.
What is the Everyday Peace Indicators approach?
Everyday Peace Indicators informs peacebuilding through everyday lived experiences. The EPI team works with communities experiencing or emerging from violent conflict to generate bottom-up (“everyday”) indicators for hard-to-define concepts, like peace, conflict, justice and governance. The EPI approach is underpinned by the premise that communities affected by war know best what peace means to them and accordingly should be the primary source of information on peacebuilding effectiveness. We work globally, including in South Sudan, Tunisia, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ukraine and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Working as locally as possible, at the village and neighbourhood level, the EPI process has four stages:
- Develop indicator lists through community focus groups
- Verify lists through a two-step community-wide voting process
- Analyse programme and policy performance with the new EPI diagnostic tool
- Survey communities frequently to monitor for changes in people’s perceptions.
Our methods are informed by the field of participatory numbers, which seeks to infuse participation into the research design and data collection of quantitative approaches; in practice, this means that communities decide which issues are most important to them, how to formulate these issues as indicators, and the extent to which they should be weighted.
Additionally, the EPI approach has been combined with a visual, qualitative component: Photovoice. This is a participatory action methodology, which equips communities with photography training so that they can visually capture and communicate the issues that are most important to them. This is important in societies where literacy levels might be low, but it is also a hands-on methodology that community members can enjoy.
The signs (indicators) everyday people look for in their communities
Our Everyday Peace Indicators’ research from communities around the world reveals that what people identify as peace, justice and co-existence and other complex concepts, is often very different from outside practitioners’ and scholars’ understandings. Here’s two examples of our work in Afghanistan and Colombia.
In Afghanistan, we wanted to know how everyday people defined and experienced peace in their daily lives. One of the most common ways participants (1500 people involved in 144 focus groups) described peace was: “we see girls going to school.” Seeing women in professional roles (e.g. working as market vendors, doctors, vaccinators and tailors), was another critical component of everyday peace. Other indicators the community identified included “we sing songs at wedding ceremonies” and the “Taliban don’t allow anyone in the village to smoke hash.” All of these indicators were very “everyday”, or borne from the daily life experiences of people in their communities.
Contrary to popular belief and assumptions held by the international community that there are fundamental differences between the views of Afghan women and men, our results demonstrated that education and employment rights are widely supported by both Afghan men and women. This surprising area of commonality can play an important role in supporting the international community (e.g. peacebuilders, donors and governments) as they navigate the next phase in Afghanistan.
Justice and Coexistence
In Colombia, in support of the Colombian Truth Commission, EPI integrated photovoice into its Everyday Justice project. We asked people in villages severely impacted by the Colombian conflict, in the country’s northwest, to think about what they looked for as signs of justice and coexistence in their communities.
For the participants, signs of coexistence ranged from “violent acts are not repeated” to more locally relevant indicators, such as “the state maintains access roads” and “the community maintains the local cemetery.” Participants also shared that signs of justice in their communities included armed groups and the government telling the truth about the war, former guerrillas building families, rest and reparations for the victims, and an end to the violence.
Next, through workshops using photovoice, a group of the villagers chose some of these everyday indicators of justice and coexistence to photograph. They then created and displayed personal and group photo stories as part of an open-air community exhibition. We found that combining photography with our EPI approach amplifies local voices, illuminating what policymakers and international donors often miss about what matters to the everyday lives of the community members they support.
The EPI approach, using people’s own indicators for complex, hard-to-measure concepts, is an innovative and complementary approach to existing measurement systems. The EPI tool can help change the way peacebuilding and development programmes and policies are designed, implemented, and evaluated, and assist communities, practitioners, and policymakers to more effectively support conflict-affected localities work towards peace.
Importantly, it offers the opportunity for a “different kind of war story” to emerge. These narratives are not necessarily endorsed by political leaders, nor do they conform to what outsiders think is appropriate. Instead, they are often highly-localised, and linked to the everyday necessities of putting food on the table, looking after kids, and getting on with life in the midst of precarious economic and security situations.
Ultimately, our work strives to influence broader debates about peacebuilding, advocating for greater integration of local, bottom-up measurements of success. By systematising a process for having community-sourced indicators to guide the development and evaluation of programmes and policies, the EPI approach fosters learning for both outsiders and locals that moves toward more emancipatory peacebuilding and conflict transformation in realising sustainable peace.
Dr Yvette Selim is a Research Advisor to Everyday Peace Indicators, and Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Public Policy and Governance at the University of Technology Sydney.
Dr Roger Mac Ginty is Professor at the School of Government and International Affairs, and Director of the Durham Global Security Institute, both at Durham University.
The views and opinions expressed in posts on the Rethinking Security blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the network and its broader membership.
Image Credit: Everyday Peace Indicators – Colombia: La comunidad puede mercar sin llevar la factura.