Transforming Matters Blog

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Analyzing Conflict Analysis July 1, 2010

Just back from a conference “Analyzing Conflict Transformation” hosted by the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications.  My mind is busy with all sort of thoughts about how to model conflicts, how models help support decision makers, how maps and other visualizations are essential analytic tools, and how much of this might be applied in the nonviolent conflict transformation and community building fields I normally inhabit. We talked about whether science is only the hard, qualitative sciences, or if values, emotions, qualitative approaches are included and even what it means to include the observer, the investigator in the system that is being investigated and observed.

It was a fantastic gathering of people from many different fields, disciplines and perspectives. I had made a naïve assumption that many if not most people at a conference about analyzing conflict transformation would come from a peaceful conflict transformation prospective. This was not the case, as many of the participants were from the military or military related commercial companies. It is so refreshing to get outside the usual collection of perspectives, assumptions, opinions I associate with, and mix with others.

I also felt sad that these sophisticated tools and approaches are not more widely available in the peace building and community building world.  The resources we put in to the military and commercial sectors so dwarf what is available to the NGO and INGO sectors.  I got excited thinking about interesting some of the researchers at the conference, in carrying out their research in partnership with some of the organizations I work with.

While “we” ( include yourself if you think you belong to this “we”) use narratives to describe complex systems of conflict, there are modeling tools that others use, that allow you to explore via computer modeling, the impacts of one or another interventions and moves.  While not meant to predict, these explorations open up possibilities we might not have thought of, or thought through in the way a model reveals.  They can reveal a promising lever for change, around which a program can be built.  A well developed systemic model might also allow us to understand the impacts of our work, without having the problem of singular causality but rather to examine how the system has changed and explore what the levers of change might have been.

While the actual unfolding of events always includes surprises and it isn’t possible to include the vast array of elements in real life conflict situations, and so models can’t reliable predict futures, they can show us visions we might otherwise not imagine.

So, sometime in the next few weeks, I am going to do some follow up and explorations with colleagues from the meeting, to see what bridges might be built.  How fun.

 

Evaluation for peace building April 20, 2010

Filed under: big thinking,ideas to try,Transforming — rachelandellen @ 9:03 am
Tags: ,

In Search of evaluations that themselves are peace building, transformative, build community and nonviolent.

In reflecting on the appropriate ways to evaluation conflict transformation, peace building, community building, I have been thinking about how the model and process needs to be congruent with the values and practice being evaluated. Evaluation (based on various definitions found online), means to use information to understand the worth or value of something, to increase effectiveness, to determine the significance of something against a set of standards. As stated in a previous blog, the means and the ends can’t be separated.  They can’t be separated in particular in this instance without in a sense doing violence, which is the very essence of what is being addressed in the work.

By this I mean that it is a form of violence to impose a set of values and assumptions about something which is ultimately subjective, the worth of an effort. These projects or programs are about supporting people to find their own capacity to transform conflicts, to build peace, to build peaceful, thriving communities.  Evaluation processes that disempower, silence or ignore, or otherwise under privilege the voices of those doing the work and being impacted in and by the work (sometimes called beneficiaries  or target groups or partners) are in stark contradiction to the vision, goals, purpose and objectives of the work.

There is a tension between the paradigm that assumes things can be objectively known and in particular can be know through SMART (Specific, Measureable, Attributable, Realistic, and Timebound) indicators and the messy reality of conflict and the movement toward nonviolence and peace in the midst of violence.

On the other hand, it is critical to learn from the work, to discover what is working and what isn’t and how and why and to strengthen and grow the field through knowledge that is articulated and shared.  It is important to be accountable not only financially and at some basic programmatic level, but for organizations to be deeply accountable to their partners, beneficiaries, staff as well as funders that they are doing the best they can and modifying their work as needed based on reliable, rigorous and credible feedback or evaluation.

I think the interesting question is how this can be done. How can the fields of conflict transformation and community building use processes that empower, that give voice to all, that privilege local knowledge, that trust participants AND that generate useful evaluation not only for those involved, but that grow the knowledge base.

The Logical Framework Analysis methodology is near ubiquitous with funders. If you add in Theories of Change methodologies, you have covered what the vast majority of funders require, if they require anything, as both planning and evaluation frameworks.  As both of these processes often fail, though it is not antithetical to the methods, to include any or sufficient input from partners and beneficiaries,  and are rarely implemented in an empowering way, what are the best complementary methods that can address their shortcomings?  And how does this vary depending on the kind of program – dialogue, training, unarmed peacekeeping, building civil society organizations, supporting democratic processes, supporting human right defenders for instance. Different interventions require different evaluation methods.  How can local, specific, subjective, idiosyncratic knowledge live with, relate to, mutually inform knowledge generated by logic models, often at a distance, often by “outsiders”, including external  evaluators.  What are the paths to peace building, community building evaluation, processes that determine worth, value, effectiveness and significance in appropriate, nonviolent ways?  This is the inquiry I am engaged in.  Thoughts, suggestions, resources, feedback, reflection are welcome from all.

 

Thinking about evaluation process and content March 16, 2010

Filed under: evaluation tools — rachelandellen @ 12:29 pm
Tags: , ,

I have been working on a paper that uses a specific episode of work done by the Nonviolent Peaceforce, as the basis for understanding some of the strengths and weakness of different evaluation methodologies. It is very telling that  what might look like a failure using one system, can look like a success in another. For instance, if one of the indicators of an objective regarding building cross ethnic relationships is successful meetings, then the cancellation and lack of rescheduling of a critical meeting would appear to be a failure. However, if looked at via outcome mapping, the emerging connections created through the process of trying to hold the meeting and the tenuous new connections made outside of a formal meeting process, indicate some successful motion in changing behaviors and relationships.

What has started to interest me even more however, is that the different methodologies require different processes and therefore different actors to participate in the evaluation itself. For instance, a logical framework can be written in a central office, by a grant writer, based on field reports and senior program staff analysis.  While there is no reason to exclude program staff or various partners to a project, they are not essential to the process. Similarly, an evaluation report can be written in the same office based on similar materials such as field reports, program staff analysis and the like. There is no need to involve others to do the evaluation, though of course some evaluations based on a logical framework do in fact involve input from many others.  Similarly, various methods based on theories of change, while potentially reflecting  a more complex and nuanced analysis of causality and relationships, do not require in the actual method, the input of others outside the implementing organization.

However, other methods such as outcome mapping and most significant change stories, require in the actual implementation process, the input not only of “field” or on the ground staff, but also of other partners, beneficiaries, target populations or other titles used to describe people outside of the implementing organization.  “So what?” you might ask.

It seems to me that one of the deep and ongoing struggles in the world of conflict transformation, community building and many other arenas, is the question of who defines problems, solutions and methods. In other words, who makes meaning of situations, of phenomenon? This is a question addressed by philosophers and social change agents alike for many years.  I don’t know that I have much to add to the broader discussion, but it seems very pressing in terms of evaluating transformational efforts.

If all the analysis can be done based on meaning assigned by the organization itself, then there is significant opportunity to distort the experiences of those in the actual change process. Even when, for instance, surveys of partners or beneficiaries are included, the questions on the survey are designed by the organization, and the results interpreted by that organization. When outside evaluators undertake the evaluation, it is often in part to avoid this situation. However, it is still an “outsider” that makes meaning of events, relationships, behaviors, or the change or lack thereof going on.  In some cases an outside evaluator may be even less likely to access the many perspectives of the ongoing work, and therefore contribute to the inaccuracies in an evaluation.

So, it has struck me yet again, that the process of how we go about understanding our work needs to include as many perspectives as possible. A method such as most significant change stories, while it lacks many things, provides input from many places AND uses people in different positions to determine which story reflects the most significant change.  The process clearly determines much of the content of an evaluation.   This seems to me a clear argument for using several methodologies and at least one multi stakeholder narrative or other qualitative method in any serious evaluation.

Nothing new here, but much of the recent literature on evaluation conflict transformation has focused on the need for processes that reflect the complexity, lack of clear causality and non linearity of change. It is important to also focus on the issue of who makes meaning, of who decides what is important to focus on, what constitutes change, what constitutes success. Let’s be sure to include this aspect as well in our discussions.

Ellen Furnari

 

Did we do okay today? February 21, 2010

Within the broad arena of humanitarian work, donors are increasingly demanding ‘results’ from the projects they fund, and the organisations who implement the projects are increasingly concerned with accountability and demonstrating their impact.

The article ‘Just wasting our time? Provocative Thoughts for Peacebuilders’ by Simon Fisher and Lada Zimina (March 2008), poses the challenge that peacebuilding and conflict transformation projects are not yet demonstrating the impact we hope and expect. The thoughts in this article mirror my own experience that proving the results from peacebuilding and conflict transformation activities is a very challenging aspect of the work, but one which I believe is made more difficult because of the way projects expect to measure the results by using techniques developed for development and humanitarian work, rather than for Conflict Transformation.

The approach based on the Logical Framework and encapsulated in Project Cycle Management (PCM) has become widely used by bilateral and multilateral donors and large Development NGOs, but little work has been done to adapt the methodology from Development and Humanitarian projects for use in Conflict Transformation.

Conflict Transformation typically takes place in a fluid and complex environment, where trust and relationships are a key element. When thinking about results we know that Peace is not something that can be ‘delivered’, a peace project can be deemed successful even if levels of violence increase, and proving a direct link between activities and any changes in the community or state is difficult. As noted in the United Nations definition[1], the Logical Framework expects a causal relationship to exist between activities and results, but when the project is dependent on so many external factors, and when local people have a central role, looking for indicators of direct impact may not give evidence that the activities have had the desired impact.

So, how about we collaborate to adapt methods and models to work more easily in projects that work to reduce violence and build peace, so that we can show the skeptics that civil society peacebuilding and violence prevention works…starting with the logical framework.

Can you share with us some of your experiences – how do you show the results of your peacebuilding and conflict transformation work?


[1] See http://www.un.org/Depts/oios/mecd/mecd_glossary/documents/glossary/set_l/logical_framework.htm (accessed May 25th 2009)

 

A suggested experiment in learning from our work January 28, 2010

Every project and program knows it must appropriately keep track of expenditures and be able to share  on short notice, any number of financial reports.  No organization that avoids this task or that doesn’t give basic resources to these tasks, is trusted with grants nor grows very quickly.

Yet very few organizations allocate any resources toward learning from their work.  Of  course learning is going on all the time.  Everyone of us is learning what works, what doesn’t, in what circumstances, new ideas, and evening learning the limits of what we know and what we wish we knew but don’t.  But few organizations have any system or method at all to articulate this and share it amongst staff. Thus individual learning often walks out the door with staff turnover.

If we think of evaluation as a particular subset of learning, organized to answer the question “Are we having and impact and if so what and how?”, then the lack of attention to learning is even more dramatic.  One of the pressing needs for work in communities, whether oriented toward conflict transformation or community building, is to articulate and demonstrate impact.  And yet the very building block to do so are rarely attended to.

My own personal list for why I don’t pay more attention to what I am learning includes the following:

Intensity – too involved with what is going on to even remember or think about taking a step back.
Lack of distance –  too absorbed with details to see  patterns, or a bigger picture.
Lack of discipline – this would require developing some new habits and the discipline to do so.

Lack of method – I don’t really have a method in this, though I KNOW many methods I could be using.

A belief –  no one, including me, will ever use any material I generate, it makes no difference, why bother.
Confusion – I am not actually clear what I am trying to learn, I need to review key questions before each reflection, questions that hold the focus on what I want to be learning.

Lack of time – always too much to do, competing priorities, other things always seem more important. –
Choice – prefer to use my “free time” to unwind, do other things.

Does this resonate?

Add at the organizational level a lack of valuing learning, lack of resources, no rewards for doing so, and of course it doesn’t get done.

Why care?

Every day people are learning critical lessons, in every organization.  We learn more about the history of where we are working and how that relates to our goals. We learn new and subtle aspects relating  to culture and customs that allow us to do our work more effectively, even when we grew up in the community and think we know it all already.  We learn about new techniques, and new needs, new opportunities and new challenges.  Circumstances are changing all the time, nothing stands still.  We get feedback from others and learn about the impact of our work from the people we work with, leading to insights about what is working, why and how.

The technology exists to capture this learning and share it so easily. Look at what people are doing with Twitter and Facebook.

Here is the experiment.

Try creating a facebook page, blog, Ning, LinkedIn group….some social networking system that you are comfortable with, just for your co-workers. Post a couple of questions that are important to you, and ask what others are learning.  See if you can post your own thoughts, experiences, ah ha moments ( whether about positive or challenging moments) at least once a day.  Remember that Twitter works because people post brief, easy to read, messages.  Try to keep the focus on what you are learning, not just what you are doing.  Add links to interesting, relatively brief news,  articles, web pages, etc that you run across.   See what happens.

And please, post what you learn here, to share with others. Let’s do this experiment together!

 

A list of tools and approaches January 22, 2010

In my work I get to know how people working to peacefully transform violent conflict manage to evaluate their work, even if it is difficult, complicated and could have any number of benefits:

Here are some ideas if you’re thinking of it too.

Reflecting on Peace Practice

Reflective Learning

Journaling

Story Circles

 

Transforming and changing our world January 16, 2010

Filed under: Transforming — rachelandellen @ 10:23 pm

We know things have to change, transformation is about changing behaviour, transformation is about seeing the world differently and the way we relate to each other.