Success of Interventions

Mary Anderson

President of CDA (Collaborative for Development Action), Inc.

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Q: Finally, the criteria for success? How do you measure what you have just done?

A: There's the real kicker. Well we actually worked and worked and worked as a project with all of these thousand people and agencies to ask that question. So how do you know whether you are making some significant impact at all because if you say that you don't know that you have made a significant impact until you are living in a world of perfect peace then you know

A: Long time.

Q: Well it may be a long time but it may be faster then we think sometimes. On the other hand you know we can't hold every small limited resource project against the achievement of ultimate peace.

Then the question becomes how do you know if you are making any kind of significant impact along the way given this framework that we have just laid out and these four cells. We came up with what is now a six criteria of effectiveness, there were four at one point, and I think the six are okay for now but I think people are still working on this. We are going to learn more about this over the next three years because we are going into another phase of using these lessons and trying them out in the field again and again to see how we learn more through this.

Here are the criteria that we came up with. The first one is that the effort does something to address what needs to be stopped. It does something to take that on in someway or another. That could be a publicity campaign. That could be a personal visitation. It could be an external political power to bear on somebody who is acting badly within a country. I don't know, but that's something to address that. The second one is that the effort causes local people to take up initiatives of their own that address the issues driving the conflict because that could be either stopping things or building on what the war is not about.

Q: That second one to take on initiatives of their own would that mean starting dialogues on their own or starting some sort of advocacy campaign?

A: Whatever you have done in your program and this is mostly for outsiders but it could even be for insiders. If an insider peace agency gets something started and the people who have been engaged in it start doing things on their own; it's a momentum issue. You see they are not waiting for someone to come up with the ideas and joining what someone else is organizing; rather they are taking initiative on it. But those initiatives should be focused on what the war is about, not what it is not about. Sometimes we find people come along and say we have done a great job here because people here are just doing all sorts of additional activities here in terms of training themselves in x y z and yet it really is irrelevant to what the war is about. It is not bad programming but it is not peace programming.

The third one is that the effort either contributes to the reformation of or the development of institutions that address those grievances that are relevant in this conflict. That is on the assumption that there are some grievances that are relevant in the conflict and if there are not then that institutional level addressing grievances is not as critical. Sometimes people spend a lot of time trying to make a good institution where in fact that is not really the issue.

For example some peace agencies work on curriculum and those are institutional programs so they are saying lets institutionalize in the educational systems the teaching of peace values. Those can be very useful programs but if the people already have peace values then that's not really the issue and people wish for peace but there is something else driving the war. Then by doing that it is not going to address that specifically. It may contribute to its maintenance once you have gotten rid of what needs to be gotten rid of in terms of stopping the war. But unless that links strategically to somebody trying to do something to stop the war or what's driving the war, it could go on and on and you could teach value after value and you could institutionalize those values and still not make a significant contribution, if you see what I mean.

Q: In other words what is the conflict not about?

A: Exactly. The fourth one is the effort is effective if it reduces violence and or helps people resist the manipulation to violence. This one grows directly of experience. It is very often the reoccurrence of violence that continues to drive action-reaction reprisal to such a degree that it is hard to stop. So if one can simply stop the violence at various points it opens up space for doing some of the other things. Number five is if the effort is effective it increases people's security and their sense of security and it's not just one or the other. People can be more secure and if they still feel deeply insecure they will not be able to get on with life or if they feel secure but they aren't and they go out and go to that market and they get bombed it won't be good either. So it has to be able to make some significant contribution towards security, again that's the attempt to create a momentum towards non-war normalcy.

Q: I think at the conference you said when people can wake up and go to sleep without the threat of violence or injustice.

A: Yeah that was a good way to put it. I think that was when somebody asked me how I would know peace were at large. I think that's exactly what it would be; you could just wake up in the morning and go to bed at night knowing you are not going to encounter it, so that's pretty good. Anyway, number six is the effort is effective if it does something to address the international or regional dimensions driving a conflict. Again that's either in stopping them or reaching the key people in that dimension who can make influences on people inside the conflict or you know I mean it has a whole sort of subtexts that one could put into these. It would help describe what they look like when you see them.

Somebody asked me the other day do we have anything in our criteria of effectiveness that links the key people/more people, you know more people strategies need to link to key people strategies link to more people. And we don't at the moment and that's a real lack. I think we have to keep working on these criteria of effectiveness and see how one captures that notion into the criterion.

Q: I had asked you at the conference a little bit about number six in terms of connecting to the international and regional contacts. Tell me again if you are a local organization working on a conflict locally, how do you make those connections to regional and international contacts, I mean it seems so broad and maybe beyond the mandate of the local institution?

A: You may be right in some places but of what we found when we looked at this, because we began by thinking we would do case studies, which is how we started it and adopted it, by looking at experience and we thought we would do case studies of three types. One would be local organizations that worked entirely on their own or maybe had some support by international agencies. Another would be initiatives started by international agencies. And another would be kind of contextual case studies where you looked at all sorts of different activities going on at one location and looked at them comparatively in that location over a certain time span.

We found that we came across no local peace initiatives that didn't have international linkage. Now that could be because of what we came across, not because it doesn't exist. In a way because we are international and this was an international project and lots of people from lots of areas were involved. I guess maybe that determined it already by the time we ran across it and had international contacts. I don't mean to ???. But it turns out that almost all the activities that we looked at had some way in which they crossed this line between local and international agencies working together. They either received funding or they knew somebody or they had an idea from or somebody trained them or you know something it's back to your networking idea that there is some way in which people do find each other in the networks of people concerned about stopping conflicts and building some kind of peace.

And so in that way it seems that even the most local organization working on something even if it's just a village conflict and it doesn't have any regional or international dimensions don't make them up. I mean you can imagine having a conflict in the neighborhood or something like that, that really isn't driven bigger than that. That's okay, people can work on that and work on that in that area. If we are really talking about warfare then the linkage to the local activity to the bigger picture becomes clearer and whether the local group doesn't have to do the international work. But it could be looking at how it can help make to inform that international work so that it is taking the experience that they have in-depth in their village and helping translate that into the international sphere in a way that makes it an impact back on the village.

Q: Yeah. I just wonder if it's hard to knock on the right doors and get people to listen to your own experience, coming from the local setting?

A: Can you think of an example where you would find that hard?

Q: I am just sort of wondering out loud here, is it hard? I imagine that everybody has a point of view and wants to tell their story and can think of you know lots of places where people have a point of view and they have their own sort of advocacy organization or there is a place working towards peace, but they might think that it is precisely the regional or international contacts that don't pay any attention to them and actually works against what they are trying to work for. I am just making this up.

A: I am just trying to think about an Afghan village finding it's a way to getting the attention of the world, but when I think about that, the number of Afgan people I knew back during the civil war after the mojahedin kicked the Soviet Regime out, so during the civil war days they sort of found and there may well be people who didn't find each other, but I know of a number of people who found each other the people who were against that war and trying to find ways to stop it. And they began in a way by talking to each other and that kind of networking I think does begin to build momentum but if they start to communicate with each other and then find a way to get the message and in their international NGO community becomes a real condiment for getting images out. As do the press if you have them there.