Moving Towards More Cost-Effective Peacebuilding
By Evan Hoffman
Recently I was invited to design and deliver the first-ever graduate-level course on ethics and best practices in peacebuilding and conflict resolution for the Department of Conflict Resolution Studies at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. One of the topics that I may include is effectiveness and, more specifically, cost-effectiveness. An ethical peacebuilder has a responsibility to select the best peacebuilding tool for the situation and follow widely accepted best practices when implementing it.
EFFECTIVENESS AND COST-EFFECTIVENESS
Some say the peacebuilding field formally emerged about fifty years ago. Since then, we have seen many peacebuilding initiatives launched in numerous locations around the world in an effort to prevent or end violent conflict and war. The range of activities that fall under the peacebuilding umbrella are diverse. They include everything from art-based initiatives to sports for peace, and a range of other activities like grassroots dialogue, diplomacy and mediation. Sanctions and the use of force are also used to promote peace in some circumstances.
Steven Pinker argues that we are currently living in one of the more peaceful periods in human history. Perhaps this is attributable to peacebuilding efforts. Many make the case that peacebuilders intentionally choose to launch only those specific peacebuilding activities that they believe will effectively and efficiently reduce or eliminate violent conflict. Donors that fund such activities believe these efforts are worthy of receiving funding.
Others will observe that, to date, there have been few objective and definitive studies addressing the most fundamental question: do we really know what works to build peace in the most effective or cost-effective manner? The people from this camp would argue that peacebuilding activities are ad hoc and occur because the right mix of people and resources come together at the right moment. No study has directly addressed these fundamental questions about which peacebuilding tools are the most (cost) effective though some aspects of this question have been looked at.
What does it mean that a peacebuilder should select the tool that will be the most effective? By most effective we mean it will have the greatest possible impact on creating a lasting peace (this, of course, implies that we can measure impact!).
The best tool will be effective and cost-effective. While little empirical research exists about which specific tools are the most cost-effective, some initial thinking I did on this topic suggests lobbying, unarmed civilian peacekeeping and conflict resolution training are the 3 best tools because they have low costs and the potential to create major impacts. More research is needed on this topic.
EFFECTIVE PEACEBUILDING, BEST PRACTICE
Until that research is done, however, we need to follow existing best practices to ensure that our peacebuilding efforts are as effective and ethical as possible. What is effective peacebuilding? Is there any good guidance for this?
One of the key principals of the field is that we should “do no harm”. All of us would agree that we need to do more than just avoiding harm. We also need to do some good!
When we aim to simply do no harm perhaps we are not even doing “good”! We must move beyond this minimum threshold and ensure our programing is designed to create a positive and lasting impact in the country or region where we are working. We could thus revise the “do no harm” mantra to “let’s do no harm while doing good!”.
Another aspect of effective peacebuilding involves using an underlying theory of change and a structured decision-making model to guide our efforts. This became evident to me in my 5 years of work helping prevent violent conflict from emerging in Guinea-Bissau. We made preventing and reducing violence the main objective of our work. We deliberately took numerous targeted actions to address all of the actors and factors that were driving violence based on a new tool we developed for preventive action decision-making.
Seeking a cost-effective approach to peacebuilding is easier said than done because there is no clear indication of which tools are the most cost-effective. For now we should aim to be as effective as possible while the relative costs associated with different options are researched.
However, one thing is crystal clear: the costs of dialogue will always be less than the costs of war. For this reason alone we should be putting more resources into preventative activities such as dialogues, mediation and Track 2 diplomacy.
Evan Hoffman, PhD, is a Senior Associate at the Canadian International Institute of Applied Negotiation (CIIAN). Dr. Hoffman has published numerous articles on the themes of conflict prevention and resolution, peacebuilding, and mediation and he has provided consulting services to Global Affairs Canada (GAC), the Carter Center, the UN, the EU, the Ottawa Police Service, St. Lawrence College (Cornwall), the Vietnamese Ministry of Justice and others on these topics. Over the last ten years, he’s conducted workshops and trainings with hundreds of community leaders, university students, police officers, and government officials from around the world.
 Another interesting ethical question arises from this: would you trade off effectiveness for reduced costs?
 This recent article on UN peacekeeping argues that peacekeeping must also do no harm. See http://reliefweb.int/report/world/peacekeeping-must-be-more-flexible-adapting-evolving-threats-top-officials-tell-special
 I could see donors also needing to develop criteria and checklists to help assess project proposals for their potential cost-effectiveness.