The Platform hosted an interactive discussion on 23 June 2016 in The Hague, exploring the challenges and opportunities of measuring peace through indexes. The discussion, moderated by Rob Sijstermans of Clingendael, centered around three indexes; the Global Peace Index (GPI) by the Institute for Economics and Peace, the Flourishing Community Index (FCI) by Cordaid and the Fragile States Index (FSI) by The Fund for Peace, outlining the motivations behind their development, difficulties in the process and what these indexes have to offer to policy-making and program development in the field. Camilla Schippa, Director of the Institute for Economics & Peace officially launched the latest Global Peace Index at The Hague Institute for Global Justice the following morning.
Convening a group of practitioners from a range of fields, including the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the financial sector and mediation organizations, the discussion generated important insights into the value and pitfalls of indexing as a measure of peace.
The three indexes all encountered questions over methodology. The Global Peace Index, as Camilla Schippa detailed, integrates indicator data from a variety of respected sources, such as SIPRI and various UN agencies as well as analysis from experts working with the Institute. The FSI employs a similar methodology. Conversely, the Flourishing Community Index compiles local community voices. Each approach has strengths and weaknesses that must be dealt with and explained to consumers. A related challenge for the indexes, Nate Haken, Senior Associate of The Fund for Peace explained, is the perception of the results among its target audiences. For the GPI and FSI, the rankings as a final product were controversial at face value. Officials from some states disagreed with the simple numerical comparison of their countries with others they felt were performing worse. A common problem is that consumers get hung up on rankings, failing to understand the indicators and analysis that inform indexes.
Crucial to resolving these concerns is to explain in detail the methodology behind the rankings, and to encourage consumers to delve into the indicators, and make their own comparisons. While each index offers valuable insights into differing indicators of communities, at the local or national level, the practitioners accentuated the need for transparency of process to avoid oversimplification of results. Additionally, argued Rosan Smits, Deputy Head of the Conflict Research Unit of Clingendael, indexes should not be the starting point in identifying watch lists or developing research and policy priorities.
Expectations among surveyed individuals, practitioners and policy-makers on what indexes can achieve present another challenge. With FCI, explained Roderick Besseling of Cordaid, providing the opportunity for local communities to express grievances created expectations that these could be addressed. Similarly, Haken noted that while the FSI offers valuable insights, it does not offer solutions or practicable measures to address driving factors of conflict. Besseling and Haken both noted that creators of indexes grapple with the purpose of their measurements: is an index a forecasting tool? A grievance collection tool? A need-analysis tool? A tool to evaluate the progress resulting from programs? Without clearly defined goals and objectives, it is difficult to manage expectations and ensure value of indexes.
The discussion proved that indexes are great advocacy tools, useful for starting the conversation in various fora and spurring deeper research into specific problems and underlying factors. Critical and comparative study of a variety of indexes can encourage more targeted research and policy work and may help to develop accurate early-warning conflict analysis, but should not be the be-all and end-all of measuring peace work. Takeaways for improving the usefulness of indexes were twofold. Firstly, further cooperation and integration of measuring efforts, be they more global indexes or more specific on-the-ground expertise, is crucial to providing the most informed and accurate picture to all stakeholders in the process. Secondly, increasing understanding of both the opportunities that indexes present and their limitations as tools for measuring peace will help all users improve their ability to extract value from the important insights that indexes produce.