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Can we Measure Reconciliation?

Measuring reconciliation provides a challenge for the field because it is both a process and an outcome with a multitude of definitions attached. While there are many logistics and loopholes that need to be addressed in deciding which data should be collected, it is critical that we continue to work towards an index that can monitor and evaluate reconciliation efforts in conflict and post-conflict zones. The main priorities here are to address the challenges in measuring reconciliation and to contribute towards a holistic and ethical M&E plan that is transferable case by case. For this purpose, reconciliation is defined as the maintenance of nonviolence and positive peace that fosters conflict transformation and forgiveness with the restoration or creation of constructive relationships and livelihoods.

Challenges

Although we can work towards a broad and inclusive definition of reconciliation as a goal to measure, there are many unheard voices that have the right to add to the conversation on reconciliation and its evaluation but realistically will not. Reconciliation and the way in which it is derived have so many different interpretations. Attempting to narrow a definition along with activities, outcomes, and indicators comes at a risk to exclude certain perspectives. The worst that could happen would be to leave out the central actors: the direct and indirect victims participating in the reconciliation process. This means not only including them in the M&E procedures, but also making sure their perspectives are represented in the creation of such procedures.

Another challenge that often accompanies tracking reconciliation efforts is the tendency for them to be implied in larger peacebuilding efforts. In doing so, programs often minimize reconciliation activities and fail to address reconciliation as its own entity. This is especially an issue as time goes on and it is perceived that a post-conflict society is peacefully functioning. 

It is also important to address that there are many tracks of reconciliation that might not be able to be measured simultaneously. For example, although track one diplomacy (peace talks) often receive the most international attention, reconciliation by means of regional, community, and individual healing provides the foundation by which peace can be sustained and constructive. The challenge is to find a method of measurement that can merge national, regional, and local reconciliation efforts into a single index. 

Reconciliation Formula

Recognizing that power plays a role in formulating reconciliation and that there are bound to be holes from missing perspectives, I propose a weighted formula that outlines and prioritizes the components of reconciliation as a process and an outcome.  

  • Absence of Violence – 15% 
  • Retributive Justice – 5% 
  • Governance and Legitimacy – 10% 
  • Reparations –5% 
  • Truth Telling – 5% 
  • Community Integration – 15% 
  • Restored Relationships – 15% 
  • Individual Healing – 15%
  • Revised Curricula – 5% 
  • Long Term Social Commitment (i.e. Dialogue Groups) – 10% 

If a post-conflict community attends to every component of the formula, it is hypothesized that they will have achieved a holistic and inclusive reconciliation so long as victims of the conflict choose to participate. The items above could be measured as whether or not they exist in the context, the extent to which each has been pursued, and the success rate or impact each has on building a more peaceful society. The components with more weight are predicted to be the most essential or the prerequisites for pursuing reconciliation efforts.

If a consistent formula is applied to numerous conflicts, data could be analyzed as to which components are statistically significant and which are superfluous. Internationally there are biases towards retributive justice and state-based programs. While these programs may be successful in attaining broad reconciliation, often times there are local voices that feel distant or detached from the top-down efforts. Both the peacebuilding field and future conflict zones would benefit from knowing which methods are the most likely to be successful. As my formula suggests, I predict that a balance between grassroots and state level contributions will have the highest likelihood of building a reconciliation program that is comprehensive, sustainable, and produces positive change.

Alternative Approaches in the Field 

The Social Cohesion and Reconciliation SCORE Index is an up and coming tool designed by the Center for Sustainable Peace and Democratic Development. Thus far the SCORE index has been used in Cyprus and will likely be implemented in Kenya, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Palestine, and Nepal. The SCORE index applies a statistical analysis to selected social factors to measure the weaknesses on the ground and the risk of conflict. The primary purpose is to produce appropriate policies according to the needs identified by the index.

The SCORE index analyzes several components:  civic engagement, intergroup anxiety, cultural distance, social threats, trust and sense of representativeness in institutions, social threats, trust, stereotypes, feelings, and social distance. The index measures how ethnic groups feel towards other ethnic groups. For example, it scaled whether Greek Cypriots found Turkish Cypriots to be very trustworthy or untrustworthy. Then, policy members could target this weakness and employ trust building projects between the adversaries.

The SCORE index is progressive in the field because it is transferrable and accessible, but its title is misleading. The index undoubtedly measures social cohesion, but reconciliation is not represented adequately in most of the components. Compared to the earlier proposed reconciliation formula, the SCORE index measurements would only fall inside the absence of violence, community integration, and restored relationships. The index does not measure reconciliation, rather the social factors that are inhibiting progress towards reconciliation. A true measure of reconciliation would incorporate the work that is already being done to promote reconciliation. In doing so, an analysis could determine the state of reconciliation as deemed by the methodologies employed in that particular context. Social factors are important, but they isolate individual transformation, governance, and programmatic contributions to reconciliation as a process and an outcome.

Concluding Remarks

The M&E of context-based reconciliation has the potential to legitimize the reconciliation process in itself. Often times, there is so much focus on peacekeeping, state-centric peacebuilding, and negotiations that reconciliation is sidelined or tabled as a future task. The rise of transitional justice as a field in its own has brought more international attention to truth commissions and reparation programs, but even still localized approaches are often critiqued as illegitimate or unprofessional. M&E could bring attention to the holistic application of reconciliation processes – from local to regional and national scales – to attain a better conceptualization of what is happening and whether it is effective or not. If they weren’t before, reconciliation programs would be liable to maintain efforts so that measurements and progress can be sustained as scheduled.

Reconciliation may be achieved by some definitions, but according to others it is a never-ending process that requires long-term commitments. If that is the case, for how long should programs be evaluated? Is it realistic to monitor a post-conflict setting ten years after the termination of violence? The most logical solution would be to actively monitor the context for the first 2-3 years on a monthly or quarterly cycle, and return annually to take measurements and move forward with analyses. Conflict re-escalation is a great risk if reconciliation efforts are not pursued. The M&E plan and its sources of data are also problematic. There are logistical challenges in a post-conflict setting due to the high levels of displacement, physical destruction, emotional instability, and lack of communication in communities. While this poses an operative challenge, it also provides open ground for baseline measurements to show how far these contexts could come in constructing peace and envisioning reconciliation.

Reconciliation will always be a self-defined concept, even if there are formal efforts to calculate its components and analyze its progress. Despite that, it is critical that the field continue to take steps forward to grasp a better idea of what projects assist or hinder the reconciliation process. For each individual context it provides a window of opportunity to recognize that some projects aren’t functioning as initially intended. Evaluating reconciliation can also become a hub for information sharing amongst practitioners or localized peace and advocacy groups. A reconciliation formula could demonstrate techniques and methodologies that worked for them, without imposing a one-size-fits-all model to a vulnerable post-conflict setting. In sum, we can measure reconciliation, and it is vital that we do in order to prevent conflicts from re-escalating and to promote a culture of reconciliation that is accessible and cooperative on local and global scales.

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