In an unpredictable world characterized by increasing social, economic and political complexity, good intentions are not enough to ensure sustainable peace and development. Effective, locally appropriate programming must be based on a clear understanding of the causal mechanisms behind peaceful change and a rigorous analysis of the impact of different interventions. As a relatively young discipline, the field of conflict management is still struggling to determine the best way to define goals and objectives, to measure impact, to articulate theories of change that describe why a particular program will lead to its expected outcome, and, ultimately, to identify success.
In July 2009, Mercy Corps began an 18-month, USAID-funded research project designed to strengthen our ability to evaluate the impact of programs that aim to promote stability through peacebuilding and economic development. Through comparative case studies of three country programs — Uganda, Ethiopia, and Indonesia — we will develop a set of field-tested measures of program impact and locally appropriate data collection tools, while promoting cross-community learning and problem-solving through a cooperative learning network.
This research will also allow us to examine several "theories of change" that underlie many of Mercy Corps' conflict management and poverty alleviation programs, including the theories that building economic relationships across lines of division or reducing competition for scarce resources will promote stability.
The Building Bridges for Peace (BBP) program in Uganda is an ideal testing ground for tools designed to evaluate programs that promote stability through both peacebuilding and economic development. Based on the theory that strengthening livelihoods opportunities for high-risk populations will promote stability by reducing competition for scarce economic resources, this 24-month program aims to address the key causes of conflict in northern Karamoja by engaging agro-pastoralist communities in joint livelihoods projects that build cooperation and promote reconciliation. These livelihoods projects will increase access to water and farmland through the construction of water tanks and dams and through joint farming of previously insecure areas.
In addition, they will increase opportunities for trade between communities through the rehabilitation of local roads and markets. Livelihoods activities will be complemented by activities designed to strengthen local conflict management mechanisms, including training of local leaders in conflict prevention and resolution techniques, joint monitoring and mediation by community-based peace committees, and dialogues between cross-border communities.
Over the life of the research project, Mercy Corps will develop and refine a variety of data collection tools and techniques to strengthen monitoring and evaluation of the BBP program, including violent incident reporting, participatory conflict mapping, and indices of inter-community trust, social and economic interactions, and willingness to invest in the future.