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Expert practitioners are the key to undertaking cost-effective peacebuilding

For the last few years I’ve been interested in cost-effective peacebuilding. As part of my exploration of this topic I wrote this blog piece, shared some of my thoughts on a possible way to research this topic here and, most recently, I’ve just concluded a survey to help crowd-source an answer to the question of which peacebuilding tool is the most cost-effective (survey respondents were asked to select the 3 most cost-effective peacebuilding tools from a list of 18).

What I’ve learned from the survey results (see below table) is that establishing cost-effectiveness of specific tools is difficult. 45 people from around the world (most of them indicating that they had 10 or more years of experience) ranked almost all of the top 5 peacebuilding tools included in the survey as being more or less equal with scores ranging from 16-20. That is, no single tool from the highest ranked ones stood out from the others (for example, mediation is equally ranked with official dialogue).

My takeaway from this surprising result is that the question itself is problematic as it is more or less self-evident that all of the classic peacebuilding tools have some value and can be used at some point towards creating peace.[1] This would be similar, perhaps, to saying that wrenches are just as useful to the mechanic as pliers or screwdrivers.

However, the true potential of these tools can only be fully realized when wielded by a skilled and knowledgeable technician. Moreover, the expert technician who has reached a level of ‘artistry’ in their craft can display innovation by modifying and adapting the tools as needed to get the job done.[2] This assertion holds true for mechanics or peace and conflict resolution practitioners.

So, what is much more interesting to me now is the notion of having strategic frameworks to guide decisions so that available resources are deployed properly.[3] For example, a structured decision-making model for systematically and strategically choosing from the range of possible actions in violence prevention projects can be accessed online here.

In this manner, improving the cost-effectiveness of peacebuilding is really a question of good decision making and strategy. Plus, it is about properly training practitioners to be experts at what they do.[4]

In sum, well-trained, reflective practitioners are the key to undertaking cost-effective peacebuilding and that’s where I’d put my money!

Peacebuilding Survey Results

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[1] For example, a study from over 10 years ago on “what works to reduce political violence” reached a similar conclusion. See http://www.ciian.org/bridge_k_a_gap-final.doc

[2] For an excellent discussion of artistry in mediation, see Lang, M. D., & Taylor, A. (2000, February). The making of a mediator: Developing artistry in practice: Preface. Retrieved from http://www.mediate.com/articles/lang.cfm

[3] Related to this is the need for greater funding of peacebuilding efforts.

[4] It is important to note that there are some people who seem to be natural born mediators. However, for the rest of us, some of the learning needs of violence prevention and peacebuilding practitioners are discussed here.


Evan Hoffman, PhD, is a Senior Associate at the Canadian International Institute of Applied Negotiation (CIIAN). Dr. Hoffman has published numerous articles on the themes of conflict prevention and resolution, peacebuilding, and mediation and he has provided consulting services to Global Affairs Canada (GAC), the Carter Center, the UN, the EU, the Ottawa Police Service, St. Lawrence College (Cornwall), the Vietnamese Ministry of Justice and others on these topics. Over the last ten years, he’s conducted workshops and trainings with hundreds of community leaders, university students, police officers, and government officials from around the world.

(cross-posted from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/expert-practitioners-key-undertaking-cost-effective-evan-hoffman/)


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