Understanding Religious Identity & Peacebuilding in the People-to-People Reconciliation Fund Program – Final Report (2019)
Coeli Barry, Hippolyt Pul
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance, Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation (DCHA/CMM) undertook a thematic evaluation of four people-to-people (P2P) peacebuilding activities that engaged conflicting groups whose differences include religious identity in order to contribute to the limited body of knowledge on the nexus of religion, conflict, and peacebuilding relevant to development programming. USAID’s Global Reconciliation Fund supports the four peacebuilding activities, two in Central African Republic (CAR) and two in Thailand’s Deep South, that provide the basis of this learning evaluation.
This learning evaluation examined the ways in which the inclusion or non-inclusion of religion affect the implementation, effectiveness, and sustainability of activities in which religious identities are part of the conflict and peace dynamics. The evaluation does not measure specific outcomes or results associated with the goals, objectives, and indicators of the case study activities. Instead, it seeks to establish how well the implementation, effectiveness, and sustainability of CMM activities are or can be affected when they are aligned with the inclusion of religion or not. It aims to establish key findings that can inform best practices in the design and implementation of Global Reconciliation Fund activities in other contexts where religion is a factor in peace and conflict dynamics. The evaluation is relevant to improving the operational frame of the Global Reconciliation Fund, as well as other programming. For this learning evaluation, USAID chose the four selected activities because context analysis indicated that religious identities were factors in the conflicts the activities were seeking to address, although they were not necessarily designed to directly address religion as part of the dynamics of conflict or peacebuilding.
As this is not a performance evaluation, the evaluation did not focus directly on the effectiveness of the outcomes of the activities, but rather on how the inclusion or non-inclusion of religion in the design of interventions affected activity outcomes. USAID did not request and DI did not design the evaluation to assess overall performance of the activities. Because some Implementing Partner (IP) staff, local IP (LIP) staff, and many of the beneficiaries were more comfortable, and familiar, with performance evaluations, the Evaluation Team (ET) often needed to spend additional time communicating what was different about this approach.
Given the ways in which both conflict parties and the state have instrumentalized religion, and that some have incorrectly characterized religion as the cause of the conflict, respondents were reluctant to put too much emphasis on religion. It was generally thought that by doing so they would be buying in to the (mis)reading and (mis)interpretation of the role of religion in the conflict. The baseline analysis drew attention to this issue and the endline ET observations reinforce that line of analysis to some degree. When the respondents felt more comfortable with their understanding of a learning evaluation and trusted that it aims to convey a nuanced and more accurate rendering of the role of religion in activity implementation and results, they were more comfortable taking part.
This endline evaluation aims to address gaps in knowledge about religion, peacebuilding, and conflict, and the report includes recommendations for different stakeholders. Religion is defined broadly in terms of different religious traditions and their leaders, actors, and institutions. The evaluation is structured on questions large enough to accommodate responses that capture the ways IPs, LIPs, participants, and advisors came to understand whether religion can be part of the effort to find peaceful solutions to conflicts. The learning evaluation method is particularly useful in eliciting findings on how religion could be vital in the implementation or effectiveness of activity results, without implying that religion may play a role in the conflict. This evaluation method also allows for an assessment of the responses of participants in relation to the effect of religion on the reported outcomes of the activity.
The evaluation aims to contribute to potential learning opportunities afforded by the study of USAID/CMM’s four selected P2P Reconciliation Fund activities, including, for example, the unexpected findings. The findings section of the report highlights key findings and the conclusions section presents analysis of patterns and their significance. This report includes recommendations in order to support learning that informs program design, planning, and implementation in contexts in which religious aspects of conflict are significant.