This 19-page evaluation report summarises the findings of the learning group that was formed by the three grantees of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) Communication for Peacebuilding priority grant programme. USIP gave grants to three organisations - Internews in the Central African Republic, Radio la Benevolencija in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the World Policy Institute in Kenya – to improve understanding of and ability to leverage information and communication flows before, during, and following violent conflict. The report highlights the importance of providing communities with tools to make informed decisions in times of crises as well as the ability to distinguish for themselves hateful or violent speech; the potential usefulness and challenges of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to promote strong communication flows that promote peacebuilding; the importance of community engagement and identifying local partners; and the need for stronger, more innovative approaches to monitoring and evaluation that focus on more big picture impacts than individual project outputs.
The award was specifically concerned with leveraging information flows as part of three peacebuilding approaches that are used as violence is occurring or in the immediate aftermath of violence. These approaches are conflict monitoring and early warning, civilian protection, and community security. According to the report, these have the common goal of responding to incidents in ways that stop the violence, prevent immediate escalation, and/or get individuals out of harm’s way. A range of information flows is at the heart of each of these approaches. The projects run by Radio la Benevolencija (in DRC) and Susan Benesch at WPI (in Kenya) respectively dealt with addressing inflammatory rhetoric and the escalation of violent information flows at the grassroots and policy levels. The Internews project in the Central African Republic was designed to create a reliable, predictable, and sustainable two-way information flow between community media outlets and humanitarian actors, helping humanitarians to improve their response to conflict and increasing communities' abilities to raise awareness of conflict at the outset.
The report outlines the following key findings based on the communication for peacebuilding projects:
- Equipping communities with the tools to make informed decisions in times of crisis and to distinguish for themselves hateful or violent messages is an essential component of peacebuilding programmes.
- ICTs are an exciting development for media programme implementers. They are potentially very useful for peacebuilding efforts, as they can aid in supporting positive information flows and centralising disparate streams of information through crowd-sourcing, among other opportunities. But ICTs are not a panacea. They present challenges that need to be more closely addressed, and in some cases present hurdles for peacebuilding.
- The importance of working with the local community, both in project design and implementation, cannot be overstated. In conflict-affected regions in particular, local actors are often more familiar with local context, and well aware of the immediate information and communication needs of the community. Finding strong and reliable local partners has been difficult for some of the groups, but all agreed that finding such a partner adds immeasurably to a project’s success.
- There is a need for new and innovative ways to approach monitoring and evaluation that focus more on ‘big picture’ impacts rather than individual project outputs. Knowledge about the role of media and communication in peacebuilding is incipient, making M&E that contributes to a more holistic understanding of the potential for media and communication particularly crucial for this field of work.
- Programme implementers are aware that pre-implementation assessment periods are vital to projects, but the grantees all struggled to fit proper assessments into the short time frame. Pre-implementation assessment periods not only help ensure that the project’s framework and goals are appropriate and realistic, but also allow for better baseline data collection. Impact evaluations that usefully contribute to the knowledge and evidence base are strongest when they can be compared to thorough and appropriate baseline data.
In terms of the learning group itself, the discussions suggest that the learning group was an innovative and useful way to harness the unique knowledge of the group members. However, the group agreed that meeting before projects began, rather than at the end of the projects, would have been more useful, because they would have better understood what the three projects had in common, which would have better fostered collaboration. As well, the collaborative website set up by Internews did not work as hoped, and a better interface and more virtual meetings would have improved the experiences of the groups on the website.
One overwhelming consensus reported as emerging out of the workshop was that gaining an in-depth, nuanced understanding of the target population’s needs and desires is essential to both the immediate success and long term sustainability of projects. Presumptions about what a community wants and desires can lead to projects that ignore the immediate needs of the community they purport to benefit, and that have a low potential for continued success once the funding runs out.
Understanding the role of media and communication in peacebuilding has been of keen interest to both programme implementers and funders in recent years, but there is little knowledge about the role of media in conflict-affected regions, and about the best ways to undergo interventions. Evaluations that not only determine the level of success of an individual project, but also contribute to the knowledge base more broadly, and help us learn as a community of practice how to better implement these kinds of projects, is vital.
Internews website on February 28 2013.
Photo credit: Raimondo Chiari/Internews