New study published: New Bearings in Post-Conflict Evaluation

Tiffany Fairey, Rachel Kerr, Jelena Petrović and James Gow, New Bearings in Post-Conflict Evaluation: A Principle Based Approach (London: King’s College London, 2020).

New Bearings in Post-Conflict Evaluation, directly responds to the question posed to us that was the prompt for the Art and Reconciliation programme of research.  In 2015, UNDP (Western Balkans) asked us to develop research to address its need for ‘a codified body of knowledge pertaining to reconciliation’ and to develop ‘appropriate frameworks to evaluate post-conflict reconciliation.’ In spite of a great deal of effort and billions of dollars spent funding reconciliation projects, including arts-based projects, there was little concrete evidence of positive outcomes. The question was posed in an even more direct way by of the participants at a workshop we convened in Belgrade, who asked, simply, ‘What works?’

As we set out to answer this question, our research highlighted a disjuncture between how reconciliation is conceived and practised in arts-based peacebuilding, as an implicit goal of long-term, process-focused community engagement, and how reconciliation projects are required to account for themselves by international donors in short-term, quantifiable results. The challenge of evaluating reconciliation lies in finding ways to bridge the gap between the divergent ways that reconciliation is understood, practised and consequently measured, and in assessing not only ‘what works’ but ‘why and how’.

The study addresses this critical question by proposing Four Principles to guide the evaluation of reconciliation projects. These principles are offered as a non-prescriptive framework to underpin the planning, design and implementation of monitoring and evaluation activities using methods such as Theory of Change.  They aim to act as a guide for practitioners seeking to understand the key ideas and values that underpin the increasing array of alternative approaches to evaluation and to provide a set of criteria against which practitioners can develop evaluation best practice.  They are:

  1. Evaluation is co-created via the active and transparent participation of all stakeholders

Evaluation should be co-created, involving the active participation of all stakeholders: from local communities, project participants and beneficiaries to project organisers and donors. Transparency about what each stakeholder’s contribution consists of can ensure tokenistic modes of participation are detected and avoided.

  1. Evaluation is embedded, continuous and longitudinal

Evaluative thinking and learning needs to be embedded into organisational culture. It should consist of continuous, collaborative assessment cycles that are integrated into ongoing internal project processes and strategy to build formative, summative and longitudinal learning over time.

  1. Evaluation is context driven

Evaluation methods, design and strategy must be shaped by the specific context rather than pre-determined through the application of standardised modes and frameworks. Multimodal methods can capture contextual complexity by generating multiple forms of data from varied perspectives.

  1. Evaluation is independently peer evaluated and shared

Evaluation should be independently audited and peer evaluated by an external pool of non-commercial peer practitioners, specialists and funder evaluators drawn from local, regional and international levels (rather than corporate consultancy firms). Evaluation findings must be shared and communicated to ensure accountability and that learning is distributed and applied.

These principles are offered from a starting point that asserts reconciliation is understood as a multidimensional process rather than a specific end point, a process that is dynamic and that varies across context and time. Reconciliation activities are understood as contributing to a longitudinal, locally embedded and multi-generational process. Evaluation itself is seen as an ongoing learning process rather than solely as a definitive assessment on a specific activity. Most importantly, is understood that evaluation must account to affected communities as much as it accounts to donor priorities.

Read it here.