Design, Monitoring and Evaluation for Peacebuilding

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Processes to Transfer Lessons Learned

Many evaluations produce "lessons learned" in their conclusions, sometimes attached to recommendations. But, as Cheyanne Church points out, "a report identifying lessons is not the same as lessons learned." This relates to the common perception of evaluation as a one-off event, not a process. I see the absence of processes to transfer lessons learned as related to the lack of clearly defined accountability in peacebuilding--if we are not clear on whom we are accountable to, and how, then what incentives are there for learning for improvement?

How can we improve the transfer of lessons learned to institutional knowledge and memory? Or even beyond institutional knowledge to field-wide knowledge? A few thoughts...

  • Mandatory facilitated reflection workshops for project staff upon project completion to unpack perceptions and observations from the design and implementation processes to clearly identify mistakes, missed opportunities, as well as the things that went "right";
  • Clearly identify who the audience is -- the "learners"!
  • Produce and widely distribute a report on lessons learned (not just the lessons, but how it was learnt!) with the aim of drawing in other actors, perceptions and experiences to enrich the dialogue around the findings;
  • Initiate projects to act upon or further investigate or operationalize the recommendations and lessons learned in the evaluation report, and connect these projects with other organizations doing similar activities.

Of course, all these things take time--precious time that we simply may not have. But, then again, this comes back to field-wide culture surrounding evaluation in peacebuilding: people will make time if it is valued enough. Mary B. Anderson's Confronting War found that there is wide agreement within the field of the ethics and values implicit in peace building: honesty ranked high, which implies individual and institutional accountability, sincerity and agency transparency in particular around mistakes and mixed outcomes.

If honesty is indeed a value in the operationalized practice of peacebuilding and not just its normative conception, then we need to take evaluation more seriously. We should not so "eas[ily] throw away our values when it comes to evaluation."1

  • 1. Quoted in Cheyanne Scharbatke Church, Evaluating Peacebuilding: Not yet all it could be," pg. 478.