Complexity and Intangibility: No Excuse for Bad Measurement Practices

Cross posted from the Learning Portal for DM&E for Peacebuilding

We in peacebuilding like to think of our profession as uniquely distinct from international development, humanitarianism, and foreign policy and international assistance broadly.  This mentality has rippled down into the evaluation of peacebuilding, where the measurement of results is described as “difficult” (to put it mildly) because of the complex environments and themes that we work in and on, the intangible and oft long-term nature of results, and the non-linearity of change processes. 

While these challenges are very real, the perception of them being unique to peacebuilding is not as correct as we like to believe.  It follows, then, that nor is the challenge of measurement unique to peacebuilding, and furthermore, is not as intractable as is perceived by some.  Could it be that our own perceptions of unique challenges are actually undermining the quest to overcome said challenges?

The theme of this year’s annual conference for the American Evaluation Association was “Evaluation in Complex Ecologies: Relationships, Responsibilities, R...”.  Over the course of three days, hundreds of presentations were given by evaluators, consultants and program managers on how complexity affects their work, and how evaluation designs can accommodate for this.  I learned many things—including the use of photography and collaborative art in the evaluation process (look for a blog on this soon!).  But what hit me the most was the realization that complexity, intangibility and non-linearity are very frequently fundamental traits and challenges in the evaluation of other professions and fields. 

Other fields and professions are actively struggling with and overcoming many of these challenges: social psychology, education, policy and advocacy, even international development and many other professions!  We, as a cross-cutting and interdisciplinary field, should at minimum take note of these efforts.  Even better would be to actively track and participate in such efforts, and export the exportable to our own work!

Oh, the things peacebuilders could learn if we only broke out of the professional bubble we have created around ourselves!

Jonathan White manages the Learning Portal for DM&E for Peacebuilding at Search for Common Ground. Views expressed herein do not represent SFCG, the Learning Portal or its partners or affiliates.

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