In light of the growing interest in and demand for evidence-based peacebuilding projects from donors, international agencies, conflict-affected countries, and peacebuilding organizations, the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) sought to understand how evidence from conflict analysis and assessments informs project design and how subsequent adaptations to project design are made based on evidence gathered during project implementation. This evidence review is intended to help inform the development of a new USIP Programmatic Conflict Analysis Tool (PCAT), part of the Institute’s wider focus on enhancing conflict analysis capacity and programming effectiveness.
USIP engaged CDA Collaborative Learning Projects (CDA) to partner in conducting the evidence review because of CDA’s technical expertise in evaluating the effectiveness of peacebuilding projects and its trusted role leading processes that span sectors and organizations to produce practical learning. Research was conducted in September through December 2021 and employed a mixed methods approach that consisted of (1) a metasynthesis of information acquired from published and unpublished sources, (2) primary data collection through six interviews with two USIP project teams, and (3) three roundtable discussions with a total of thirty-two external expert-practitioners.
The research initiative was based on the premise that the effectiveness of peacebuilding projects stems from a web of factors, including project design and whatever informs the aims and approaches of that design, both concepts and data. Over the past decade in particular, the growing demand for evidence-based practices has revealed the strengths and weaknesses of existing approaches to assessing the performance of peacebuilding projects, and thus has revealed opportunities to design projects that are truly evidence-based, along with the limitations of such methods. The relatively new demand for evidence-based practices in peacebuilding comes from both top-level (states, policymakers, major donors) and grassroots or bottom-level (local groups, communities, implementing staff of global institutions) organizations. Many organizations and their leaders seeking peacebuilding impact are keen to review their peacebuilding project cycle, from design to implementation and evaluation, and to incorporate evidence-based practices at every stage.
For USIP, the interest in evidence-based practices is tied in particular to conflict analysis as a tool for gathering evidence for project design and implementation in conflict-affected contexts. As a diagnostic tool to understand conflicts, conflict analysis takes many forms and is amenable to diverse analytical approaches. As such, USIP focuses on the role of evidence, generated through extant conflict analysis approaches more broadly, in the design and adaptation of programs. This research initiative sought to build on the foundation of recent surveys and definitional work about what constitutes evidence in the peacebuilding field and to sharpen understanding, based on the literature review and original research with practitioners, of how practitioners make effective use of evidence to inform the design and implementation of peacebuilding projects.
In 2021, the world marked a thirty-year high in violent conflict. How USIP and the wider peacebuilding field translate evidence into effective programming is thus an urgent matter. Ultimately, USIP aims to advance internal and sector-wide efforts to make project design evidence-based so that it can better contribute to preventing and ending conflicts and promoting stability.