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Communicating the Value of Evaluation in Interreligious Peacebuilding

DME for Peace
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Author, Copyright Holder:
Lila O'Brien-Milne

The success of an evaluation hinges upon the attitude towards evaluative learning in the community in question in many ways - if an evaluation is not seen as serious, important, or legitimate the evaluators may not have the necessary access to information and people to conduct a quality evaluation. Beyond this, if the results of the evaluation are meant to influence the community, there must be a common ground regarding the importance of evaluation. How can peacebuilders communicate the value of evaluative learning to communities that are not basing their values on the mortal plane?

A possible strategy is to choose the composition of the evaluation team carefully so as to give the evaluation legitimacy in the community. In some contexts, members of certain identity groups will have an easier time accessing information on the ground and gaining trust and legitimacy among participants, as they may be seen as having less innate bias. Additionally, USIP reports that certain immeasurable qualities are beneficial among evaluation staff, such as security in religious identity and curiosity about others’; open-mindedness about contradictory views; integrity; empathy; and a willingness to be changed personally by the encounter. Evaluative learning may not be inherently valued but can grow to be valued over time through repeated successful evaluations.

To foster a culture of appreciation, the benefits of participatory and adaptive evaluation seem applicable to interreligious contexts. Participatory evaluation has the widely recognized benefit of increasing local ownership in evaluation and making evaluations more relevant in local contexts. Perhaps, in the context of interreligious peacebuilding, these benefits could translate to a greater value of evaluation in general. Adaptive evaluation, in addition to a participatory approach, may compound these benefits by allowing participants to see course corrections based on evaluation, and thus demonstrating the benefits of evaluative learning. This would, however, necessitate a long-term relationship with a community that may not be possible to achieve given logistical and funding constraints.

This raises the problem of attempting to communicate long-term results in a short-term setting. The impacts of religious peacebuilding efforts are often most evident in the long-term, which makes evaluation - and in turn, communicating the results of evaluation - difficult. For example, USIP notes that one of the most significant benefits of interfaith dialogue between religious leaders is the building of relationships that can be utilized to avoid violence when religious conflict arises. This benefit, while clearly very significant, is difficult to evaluate because it grows over time, and is truly tested by conflict in a way that cannot be replicated through evaluation. While the connection to the original intervention of interfaith dialogue can be made, and the benefit of that dialogue recognized intrinsically, it is not captured evaluatively. This hampers the internalization of the value of evaluation and poses a major obstacle for evaluation of religious peacebuilding. The inclusion of a more practical component in the program design may help to surmount this obstacle. Pairing inter-religious peacebuilding programs with practical skills makes a community-based program more attractive (and thereby more effective), and also creates an inroad to increasing the value of evaluation.

The use and importance of evaluation may be more easily be communicated in the short-term with regards to practical skills. Here again, the use of participatory evaluation may be key. One of the benefits of participatory evaluation recognized by BetterEvaluation (link is external) is the building of the capacity of local teams. Additionally, USIP notes that “as evaluation becomes a standard part of programs, its staff and managers will begin to think more like social scientists.” The inclusion of a practical component in interreligious peacebuilding will allow for a culture of evaluation to develop, and potentially for local organizations to be able to do (and interested in) the kind of long-term evaluation that will capture long-term benefits.

Finally, allowing program design and evaluation to be shaped by the religious orientation of the groups and individuals involved may contribute to attitudes regarding evaluation. Identifying relevant religion-specific structures or processes for working for justice and peace, resolving conflict, or reconciling relationships and incorporating them into theories of change and logic models - and thereby into evaluations - can give legitimacy to program design and evaluation according to USIP. This raises the importance of a thorough conflict and context analysis. A participatory approach to conflict analysis might provide greater insight into what these elements are in a given context, and how they can be mobilized with legitimacy.

Lila O'Brien-Milne is former Intern of Search for Common Ground.