Design, Monitoring and Evaluation for Peacebuilding

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Documenting Peacebuilding: Case Studies

Documenting Peacebuilding: Case Studies

Case studies are a terrific, low-cost way to document something interesting in project implementation and evaluation. They provide an opportunity for reflection, learning and the sharing of lessons learnt in a safe and secure manner, and also allow for the easy presentation, dissemination and digestion of complex phenomena and data sets.

Hot Tip! Check out Mark Rogers’ post on the Learning Portal on how case studies can support reflective practice.

And yet, there are not many publically available case studies relating to peacebuilding. Perhaps this relates to the overall lack of transparency and maturity in peacebuilding’s evaluation processes and the infrequent documentation of our reflections. In any case, one of the more recent publications of peacebuilding case studies is Craig Zelizer and Robert Rubinstein’s Building Peace: Practical Reflections from the Field. It’s an excellent book rich with insight on the praxis of peacebuilding.

Hot Resource! Check out Mercy Corps’ recent set of case studies (Uganda, Indonesia) exploring the effectiveness of poverty reduction initiatives when paired with peacebuilding activities.

So, what is a case study, and how can it be used?

Unique Stories

In technical jargon, a case study is “an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context,” and which allows the investigation to maintain all the meaningful characteristics of real-world events and processes.1 A case study, in other words, is a story about something unique.

Hot Resource! Preparing a Case Study: A Guide for Designing and Conducting a Case Study for Evaluation Input by Palena Neale, Shyam Thapa and Carolyn Boyce

Within this frame there are three types of case studies:

Exploratory case study

These are meant to determine the feasibility of future works, such as research or an intervention. You might use an exploratory case study in the design phase of a project: to determine the feasibility of a project. In some ways an assessment mission sent to assess the possibility of an intervention in a specific context could be considered exploratory if the documentation is rigorous enough (and there is an express intent to present that information as case study research).

Descriptive case study

This case study presents a complete description of the phenomena in its context. You might use a descriptive case study in the design or evaluation phases of a project: to understand the interplay between conflict dynamics and context dynamics together within a specific geographic frame (i.e., a specific community or nation-state, etc.).

Explanatory case study

This type of case study presents cause-effect relationships in order to explain how and why events happened and how they are connected. For example, you would use this type of case study to explore in-depth how the outcomes of a particular intervention occurred in a specific community (if cause-effect relationship can indeed be drawn, otherwise you would be employing more of a descriptive case study).

Clearly, there are a whole range of applications of case studies in peacebuilding. And as mentioned in the beginning, case studies can be relatively cheap in comparison to other evaluation or research methods, and provide an excellent opportunity for reflection and learning—which in my view does not occur often enough. But it is important to keep in mind that case studies can be difficult to generalize across contexts (or ‘universes’ as a researcher might say).

The Peacebuilding Story

All of this sounds well and good, documenting interesting phenomena for learning and so on, but what specifically might we use case studies for? Let’s look at a few examples.

All theatre, literature and good storytelling revolve around some form of conflict. John Wayne, Rambo and their video descendants attest to the magnetic attraction of the drama of violent conflict. Peacebuilding can and needs to be equally dramatic to capture people’s imagination and interest.2

Reporting to Donors, Stakeholders, HQ and the Media

Is there a particularly interesting story or anecdote from project implementation that you think other people should know about? Given the frequent emphasis on voices and perspectives, case study methodology can be a good tool for reporting that story, and why it is special and/or unique, including its implications, to wider audiences.

An example might be an individual who has made tremendous strides towards transforming conflict within their community as a result of the intervention. You might prepare a set of interview questions for the individual and some of the people s/he interacts with to better understand how and why the individual was able to transform that situation.

Deep Monitoring

If you have quantitative data that suggests success or problem areas in program implementation, and you want to dig underneath this broad, generalized data to look at ‘how’ and ‘why’ change did or did not occur, the use of case study methodology can provide supporting documentation to answer those questions.

For example, while implementing a community empowerment and political participation project in several communities, you notice that one community in particular is not performing on par with the others. Attendance to trainings, workshops and other project activities is low, and the participant return rate and knowledge retention is low. A case study of that particularly community might help you better understand why the project is not as successful as it could be—and you can compare this case study to one of the communities that performed exceptionally well.

Assessment and Evaluation

Case study methodology allows you to dig deeper into the situation in which you are working, or seek to work, to better understand existing capacities and dynamics. For example, you are preparing a country-wide intervention in a country you have not worked in before. Do communities X and Y, in the eastern region of the country, experience similar conflicts and dynamics as communities A and B in the north? Why or why not? How should the intervention be tailored in order to accommodate these needs and dynamics? What are the key considerations in each of these communities, and how and why do they differ?

And don’t forget to share your case study with the community of peacebuilders through the Learning Portal for DM&E for Peacebuilding! Check out some of the case studies we currently have available here.

Hot Resources

Free Online! Preparing a Case Study: A Guide for Designing and Conducting a Case Study for Evaluation Input by Palena Neale, Shyam Thapa and Carolyn Boyce

Free Online! Check out Mercy Corps’ recent set of case studies (Uganda, Indonesia, Lessons Learned on Measuring Impact) exploring the effectiveness of poverty reduction initiatives when paired with peacebuilding activities.

Free Online! Check out Mercy Corps’ recent case study on pastoralists, drought and conflict in Ethiopia 

  • 1. Robert Yin, Case Study Research: Design and Methods, Second Edition, Applied Social Research Methods Series Volume 5 (London: Sage Publications, 1994) p. 3.
  • 2. Lisa Schirch, Ritual and Symbol in Peacebuilding (Bloomfield, CT: Kumarian Press, 2005), pp. 1.

I totally agree case studies are useful methods to evaluate impacts of projects as they present a clear picture of a scenario and process. The flexibility with the design and planning makes it a popular choice in social science research. I personally find easy to understand and internalize a content when I get to observe them through case studies. Case studies are best suited for comparing several comparable units of different projects on few common criteria and works very well to compare the conflict contexts, impacts of development aids that has strong connection to peacebuilding. The case studies offer the possibility of analyzing the patterns; similarities and differences and can also be used as cross organization learning opportunity. I wonder if case studies are always low cost methods because I believe that cost of case studies depends on several different factors like the numbers of units studied, time allocated for the research, application of findings and dissemination process etc. Who conducts a case study and for what purpose also makes a big difference in the associated costs E.g. A university student can conduct a case study as a part of his/her master degree thesis while a big international organization can choose to do the same with more units in account with more resources at disposal. I think all these factors also make a big difference in the quality and reliability of the case study findings. 

Case studies have the tendency to be relatable, interesting to read and dramatic which can be very helpful in presenting complex research and evaluation findings. As stated in Jonathan White’s more recent post “Beyond Data: The Limits of Evaluative Data” (02/19/2013), “In peacebuilding, and fragile and conflict-affected states in general, contextualization and valuing of data requires first and foremost and intimate reading of the pulse of a country.” Case studies help in the digestion of complex data sets by contextualizing the data in a relevant context so that it is better understood and valued.

The use of case studies to contextualize and explain important data can be invaluable, especially if the audience for your research findings is not prepared to grapple with the complex data sets or think about the applications in their busy lives. For example when communicating with donors or the public it may be particularly useful to provide a case study that conveys or exemplifies specific data when communicating with donors or the public. 

The use of case studies by peacebuilders can be a creative way to get the attention of donors, and a target audience. Case studies are known to trigger the emotions of readers and therefore are a good way to create empathy or encourage action in support of a peacebuilding initiative. However, I think it is important to use case studies appropriately. Stories that romanticize a situation should not be used to make preacebuilders look good. Rather a case study has the responsibility to outline both strengths and challenges of conflict situations and peace tactics to properly showcase the reality of peacebuilding. Furthermore as Jonathan previously stated, a case study is a unique story, therefore it is important to understand a case study as a micro-view of a specific context and should not be used to create generalizations. Case studies are a great way for peacebuilders to captivate attention but must be used appropriately. 

These have the purpose of determining the feasibility of future works, such as research or intervention. CISSP Dumps  You can use an exploratory case study in the design phase of a project to determine the feasibility of a project. In a sense, an evaluation mission to assess the possibility of an intervention in a specific context could be considered 642-813 Dumps

This is a good thing that there are experiences for the exchange of ideas and experiences from all regions in the world and I can share with you my experience of my country Libya some lessons if we could get to the stage where we can collect all the ideas and we're working on