How the limited resources available to the peacebuilding community are allocated can have a powerful effect on what is achieved. We urgently need hard data on which to base decisions about what we can do and can fund that will contribute the most to peace.
My website is one of the few places you can find resources about cost-effectiveness as it relates to peacebuilding. I hope you will take time to review the writing and research that does exist.
Early in my involvement in peacebuiding, I became aware that many efforts to reduce armed conflict were ineffective or even counter-productive. But when I read Severine Autesserre’s book, Peaceland, that showed that large amounts of effort and money were being expended on activities that were ineffective, I couldn’t resist the urge to try to do something about it.
Because the resources of the peacebuilding field are so limited, it is critically important that they be well spent. To the extent that more resources are focused on work that produces real results, much more will be achieved.
Almost no hard evidence on cost-effectiveness is available to guide decision-makers about what activities are likely to produce the best results. Thus they are faced with basing their decisions on such factors as personal preferences, anecdotes, or what seems likely to help most in fund-raising.
Recognizing the problem, a number of organizations have initiated investigations of the effectiveness of various peacebuilding activities. Useful as such information is, without incorporating data about cost, data on effectiveness alone can lead to flawed decisions about resource allocation.
Consider, for example, a choice between staging one-week and two-week training workshops on conflict resolution. The two-week sessions would almost certainly be more effective than the one-week sessions. But if the available resources were devoted to twice as many one-week workshops, they might have a far greater total effect. Looking only at effectiveness could lead to a decision to support two weeks of training, whereas more one-week sessions might do more to promote peace.
Developing meaningful information on cost-effectiveness that would be useful to decision-makers will not be easy. Every situation is unique, so that applying a lesson learned about one situation may not be applicable to another. Many activities called peacebuilding are primarily aimed at other objectives, such as strengthening governance, protecting human rights, or economic development. Determining the cost and effectiveness specifically with respect to peacebuilding would be challenging.
Initially research could be limited to activities the primary objective of which was to reduce political violence. That would not be easy, either. On the cost side, there is the question of overhead allocation. What costs are most relevant? And then there is the ubiquitous question of the counter-factual: would armed conflict have broken out if nothing had been done? We need better methodology for measuring changes in the likelihood of political violence as work proceeds.
Challenging as questions about cost-effectiveness may be, they are central to decisions about what to do and what to fund. Without answers, the peacebuilding community is flying blind.
Resources devoted to investigating cost-effectiveness would surely, in the long run, accomplish more than many of the ways that they are being expended currently. Therefore, I am doing what I can do to promote such research. I have co-sponsored an initial study of cost-effectiveness done by the Institute for Economics and Peace. I am exploring additional initiatives to developing data that will help practitioners and funders to decide where their resources can do the most for reducing armed conflict in the world.