Evaluating Environmental Peacebuilding: Difficult but Necessary

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Blog co-author: Juha I. Uitto, Director, GEF Independent Evaluation Office (GEF IEO)

When you first hear the phrase “environmental peacebuilding,” you may think that these two words are not directly linked. Think again. Many conflicts around the world affect and are affected by, at least indirectly, the environment and natural resources. For example, the extraction of minerals like cobalt, coltan, and gold in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has both decimated the natural environment and fueled ongoing conflict between the national military and various militias. On the other hand, the natural environment and its management can also serve as a mechanism for connecting conflicting parties and supporting peace. Water resource management, for instance, has been an important domain for building trust and developing a shared identity in the Middle East.

Upon reading this, your second thought may be that efforts to both manage the natural environment sustainably and to build lasting peace are elusive and difficult to measure. There you would be right. But this difficulty should not stop us from trying, as we need to know that the policies, strategies, programs and projects that we are engaged in are achieving their objectives of contributing positively to environmental peacebuilding. We also want to know that the results are sustainable in political, social, economic, and environmental terms. As these interventions by definition operate in conflict-affected situations, it is very important that we know who benefits and that the benefits accrue equitably to the various parties involved. Otherwise, the interventions may bring temporary peace but fail to address the root causes of conflict, potentially even perpetuating them. Assessing these results also provides the information we need to learn what we could do better in the future.

Good practice for monitoring and evaluation (M&E) in the context of environmental peacebuilding is still emerging, and there are specific challenges that go beyond what program managers and evaluators face in more common development situations. In environmental peacebuilding, the context is always very complex, and that complexity adds to the challenges of doing good M&E. For example, we cannot rely on linear theories of change but must instead find ways to capture the dynamic and fluid interactions of an intervention and the multifaceted results it produces. Additionally, although the timelines for impact are often very long, we have immediate needs for information that will tell us whether we are doing the right things. We often do not know what the baselines are or the benchmarks against which we are measuring our performance. Institutional capacities and resources for M&E are often insufficient, and there are political challenges in conflict-affected situations. For instance, who owns the evaluation function or the data that are generated and used for reporting in these situations? How might the use of evaluation findings affect the conflict? The challenges can appear endless.

To tackle them, we must take a holistic view of the situation rather than looking narrowly at a single intervention through its internal logic. Each intervention takes place in a dynamic environment where there are multiple interests, actors, and interactions between them. Situations are ripe for unintended consequences. To develop good practice, we must develop evidence based on what works in these complex environments, and we must be open to discussing both our successes and failures.

The Environmental Peacebuilding Association, itself still a new endeavor, has recently established an M&E Interest Group. As a community of researchers and practitioners, we seek to activate learning and enhance our shared capacities to assess and document the impacts of environmental peacebuilding. This includes understanding and documenting effective practices for the future as well as the pitfalls and unintended consequences of both environmental peacebuilding and its M&E. We would like to extend an invitation to interested readers to take part in this journey and join the Interest Group. More information can be found here (https://environmentalpeacebuilding.org/interest-groups/monitoring-and-evaluation-m-and-e/).

Amanda Woomer and Juha Uitto are the co-chairs of the M&E Interest Group in the Environmental Peacebuilding Association.

Amanda is Associate Director for Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEAL) at Habitat for Humanity International. She is also an independent consultant focused on using M&E and conflict sensitivity to improve program implementation, efficiency, and effectiveness for conservation organization

Juha is Director of the Independent Evaluation Office (IEO) at the Global Environment Facility (GEF). Over the past two decades, he has conducted and managed a large number of evaluations with the GEF and UNDP focused primarily on environment and development linkages.

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