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«Reina C. Neufeldt 1. Introduction 2 2. The Contenders: “Logical Frameworkers” and “Complex Circlers” 2 3. The ...»

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“Frameworkers” and “Circlers” –

Exploring Assumptions in Peace and Conflict

Impact Assessment

Reina C. Neufeldt


1. Introduction 2

2. The Contenders: “Logical Frameworkers” and “Complex Circlers” 2

3. The Situation at Present: Increasing Demands for Effectiveness and Results 4

4. Articulating Assumptions 7

5. Frameworker versus Circler: What the Tensions Tell Us 8

6. Conclusion 16

7. References 17 © Berghof Research Center for Constructive Conflict Management - First launch August 2007 Reina C. Neufeldt “Frameworkers” and “Circlers” – Exploring Assumptions in Peace and Conflict Impact Assessment1 Reina C. Neufeldt

1. Introduction This article was borne out of a need to bring together two contending constituencies and their arguments about why and how to identify impact in peacebuilding initiatives in practice.

The two constituencies, which I call “frameworkers” and “circlers” in this article, involve sets of people who blend across the lines of development and conflict transformation work and possess very different arguments about how to conceptualise and operationalise issues of impact and change in programme design, monitoring and evaluation. The differences matter in a practical sense for workers in international and national non-governmental organisations (NGOs) because their views often clash during programme design, monitoring and evaluation processes, and leave both sides dissatisfied. The groups also matter for conceptual reasons because they capture unspoken differences that hinder people’s ability to talk clearly about impact and change, what matters, how people “know what they know” about impact and change and, therefore, how they do their peacebuilding work. Unmasking the conceptual debates can improve our ability to speak about and achieve effectiveness and impact.

In this article, I begin by outlining the two basic constituencies. I then briefly review 2 the current status of peacebuilding monitoring and evaluation, and reflect on which constituency dominates at present. This is followed by an analysis of a series of topics that are debated between the two groups; some of these topics are debated openly and addressed by other works that examine peacebuilding monitoring and evaluation, and some lie below the surface or are not articulated as debates. The tensions provide insights into the underlying issues that need to be identified in order to be fruitfully addressed. Finally, I present some concrete examples of ways that peacebuilding or other social change oriented programmes have adpoted to bridge the positions in practice and identify practices that can strengthen particular areas that are currently under-developed and can benefit programmes.

2. The Contenders: “Logical Frameworkers” and “Complex Circlers” Before delving into the contending sides, it is important to clarify how the terms peacebuilding and conflict are used in this article. Peacebuilding is used to refer to activities that are aimed at improving relationships and addressing root causes of conflict in order to prevent, reduce or recover from violent conflict (Lederach 1997, Fast and Neufeldt 2005). I use the term instead 1 This article is based on the paper “‘Frameworkers’ and ‘Circlers’: Bringing Together Contending Opinions of Peacebuilding Impact and Change”, presented at the 47th Annual Conference of the International Studies Association, San Diego, March 2006. The issues explored here were surfaced during work with colleagues from the Joan B. Kroc Institute of International Peace Studies and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) while working on a monitoring and learning toolkit (Lederach et al. 2007). The toolkit was generously supported by a grant from the United States Institute of Peace. Some of the issues in the article were further crystallised during a peacebuilding learning event hosted by Cordaid, in The Hague, November 2005. I would also like to acknowledge and thank my colleagues Susan Hahn, Mark Rogers and the Berghof editing team for their enriching and constructive feedback.

“Frameworkers” and “Circlers” – Exploring Assumptions in Peace and Conflict Impact Assessment © Berghof Research Center for Constructive Conflict Management Reina C. Neufeldt of “conflict sensitivity” (see Barbolet et al. 2005) or “Do No Harm” (Anderson 1999) in order to note that programmes or projects either have peacebuilding goals as their exclusive aim (such as improving tolerance through interreligious dialogue or culture of peace education in schools), or include peacebuilding components and objectives alongside other development objectives (such as improving relationships between conflicted communities as part of women’s self-help groups).

The term conflict is used here to refer to the perception of mutually incompatible goals between groups of people (Mitchell 1981, 17). The types of conflicts in which international development NGOs are involved tend to be situated at the inter-group level (and sometimes intragroup), in geographic areas within internationally recognized nation-states. One example is work with Muslim (Moro), Christian and indigenous Lumad communities in Mindanao, Philippines.

Peacebuilding activities usually occur when people within communities or sub-regions are divided along ethnic, religious or political identity lines, and the conflicts typically involve a mix of social, political and economic issues.

As already noted, two basic constituencies can be identified for approaches to planning, monitoring and evaluation. They are framed here in oppositional terms in order to highlight the most conceptually troubling differences in opinions and approaches. Fortunately, people do not usually inhabit the polar ice caps of their arguments, a reality to which I return when examining illustrations of work that bridges the divisions in the concluding section of the article. It is worth noting that there is significant common ground between the two constituencies: both camps believe that peacebuilding and development work has the capacity to catalyze positive changes and impact peoples’ lives, livelihoods and inter-group conflicts. There is a common assumption that constructive change and impact are possible, and that we humans can be at least partial authors of that change.

The first constituency is a group of people I have called the “frameworkers”. For this group, peacebuilding programme design, as well as monitoring and evaluation systems, is based 3 on linear, cause-effect thinking, or causal chains, and programmes or projects are explicitly laid out with their assumptions in logical frameworks – hence the name. Impact is examined with respect to the degree to which particular activities and outputs are met, as well as the degree to which those activities and their outputs contribute to larger or higher-order objectives and goals (for examples of logical frameworks see Stetson et al. 2004). Indicators for activities, outputs, results or objectives are to be “SMART”, meaning: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound (Roche 1999). Logical frameworks are planning tools to help practitioners think through their interventions before they begin. Some of the underlying assumptions embedded within this approach are that we know and can measure impact and progress through objective variables and we can, to a reasonable degree, predict the impact of our programmes during the design stages. For most frameworkers there is also a desire to identify generalizable lessons and indicators that can hold up across a variety of contexts – although there is also an understanding that this is very difficult in conflict contexts (Schmelzle 2005).

The second constituency might be called the “complex circlers”, or more simply “circlers”.

This group of people approach peacebuilding using a more elliptical method, are relationshipfocused and tend to have an accompanying desire to be flexible and responsive to each situation.

Circlers argue that what they are often most interested in is un-measurable; they seek communitybased, organic processes and view frameworks as too focused on achieving pre-set outcomes. They do not think that events in conflict environments can be predicted, because events are constructed by multiple, interlocking influences, which at any one moment might be thought of as a “cause” or an “effect” or both intertwined. Causality is therefore not necessarily linear or a “chained” series of events. Circlers are interested in the uniqueness of interventions and communities – they focus “Frameworkers” and “Circlers” – Exploring Assumptions in Peace and Conflict Impact Assessment © Berghof Research Center for Constructive Conflict Management Reina C. Neufeldt on the stories and lessons that emerge from specific cultural, geographic and temporal contexts and do not expect these to be generalizable. Assumptions within this approach include the belief that every situation is unique, lessons are not transferable, planning has limitations and that flexibility is always an asset.

In the work environment, these different approaches lead to unhelpful misunderstandings and criticisms. Circlers often suggest frameworkers are too rigid and western. They fear that the frameworker approach represents a strong bias of western modes of thought that is often inappropriate in the diverse and variegated community contexts in which they work. Frameworkers, on the other hand, suggest circlers are scattered and vague. They fear that circlers do not invest enough time or energy in planning nor thinking critically about what can be accomplished and therefore worry that overall impact and effectiveness are undermined.

3. The Situation at Present: Increasing Demands for Effectiveness and Results The field of peacebuilding has now aged enough to be asked: “what differences are you making?” and, often a corollary question for donors, “why are we spending money on these activities?” This emphasis is particularly heavy in large development agencies, which utilise logical frameworks for most types of programming, and has been part of a trend towards more businessoriented models of investment in the development community. A paper examining organisational learning in non-governmental organisations (NGOs) succinctly notes that this is part of a general trend: “Donors, whilst increasingly requiring evidence of impact and learning, still use the delivery of outputs and financial probity as the bottom line measure for their ‘return on investment’” (Britton 4 2005, 5). Many sectors report impacts utilising developed sets of indicators and expect peacebuilding – a newer programmatic addition – to do the same.

Since 2000, the Reflecting on Peace Practice Project (RPP) has taken peace practitioners to task for relying too heavily on the arguments against assessing impact, as well as for the supposition

that good intentions were enough. Mary Anderson and Lara Olson (2003, 10) challenged:

All of the good peace work being done should be adding up to more than it is. The potential of these multiple efforts is not fully realized. Practitioners know that, so long as people continue to suffer the consequences of unresolved conflicts, there is urgency for everyone to do better.

So, in spite of the real limitations and constraints, the question of effectiveness is high on the agenda of peace practitioners. It is posed in several ways: How do we do what we do better, with more effect, with better effect? How do we know that the work we do for peace is worthwhile? What, in fact, are the results of our work for the people on whose behalf, or with whom, we work?

The call for accountability to the people “on whose behalf or with whom” we work is one that resonates with both frameworkers and circlers, who want to be as effective as possible.

The calls to show effectiveness have been heard. There has been considerable energy and attention in peacebuilding devoted to the whole spectrum of peacebuilding planning, monitoring and evaluation of impact over the past several years. The initial work that focused on Peace and Conflict Impact Assessment (PCIA) has aged and grown. The Berghof Research Center hosted an initial series of debates and articles about PCIA issues on their website between 2000 and 2003. These articles and the scholar-practitioner dialogue therein were updated in 2005. The latest dialogue “Frameworkers” and “Circlers” – Exploring Assumptions in Peace and Conflict Impact Assessment © Berghof Research Center for Constructive Conflict Management Reina C. Neufeldt recognizes a proliferation of evaluation and impact assessment activities and focuses on a number of central issues such as: ownership in evaluation processes, the level and quality of evaluation and assessment processes, micro-meso-macro linkage difficulties, whether or not to develop standard sets of indicators (although there is general agreement that indicators are useful) and a recognition of a lacking coherence of theories, hypotheses or assumptions in peacebuilding (Schmelzle 2005, 5). The Journal of Development and Peacebuilding dedicated a full issue to the topic of evaluation in 2005 (Vol. 2, No. 2) as a forum to air contemporary issues and identify some initial lessons. The RPP project has been field-testing the criteria of effectiveness it yielded from the initial case studies (Anderson et al. 2004).

There are new works coming out that focus on design, monitoring and evaluation systems and tools specifically tailored for peacebuilding. Three works are particularly worth noting. Social Impact (Sartorius and Carver 2006) assembled a large set of tools that can be used for monitoring and evaluating fragile states and peacebuilding programming for the Office of Transition Initiatives, USAID. Cheyanne Church and Mark Rogers (2006) recently completed Designing for Results for Search for Common Ground, which is a large volume that briefly touches on theories of change and learning and explores in considerable depth issues of programme design, indicators, baselines, monitoring and evaluation of conflict transformation practice. Thania Paffenholz and Luc Reychler (2005; 2007) likewise completed a volume on peace and conflict related assessment and evaluation;

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