Consider the following three reflections when conducting data advocacy with conflict-affected communities

Peace & Security08 Dec 2020Rojan Bolling, Kiza Magendane
Local perspective

For some time now, the idea that security policies should be more attuned to the needs of people in conflict-affected settings has gained support in the international security community. The latest drive to achieve a shift towards locally-led approaches is the localization agenda. The underlying assumption is that people in the local context know best what is needed to overcome the security challenges they face. The unprecedented rise of digital technologies provides I/NGOs with a unique opportunity to effectively collect, analyse and disseminate data on these local perspectives. In other words, it has never been this easy to connect local perspectives from conflict-affected communities to policymaking at local, national and international level. 

Yet, due to the lack of systematic designs, I/NGOs don’t fully harness the potential that digital technologies provide to engage with conflict-affected communities. That is why the tool ‘Data advocacy with conflict-affected communities’ by The Broker and Cordaid, develops a framework that organizations can use for evidence-led advocacy to connect local perspectives in conflict-affected settings to multiple levels of policy-making. Based on the research underlying this tool, this blog provides three critical reflections to consider for I/NGOs who want to engage in data advocacy with conflict-affected communities.

Download the tool ‘Data advocacy with conflict-affected communities’ here.

Reflect critically on the distinction between ‘the global’ and ‘the local’

What is understood as ‘global’ and ‘local’ deserve critical scrutiny because of the underlying normative assumptions. In the localisation agenda and various policy circles on human security, there persists a romanticised idea of ‘the local’, an outside and isolated world that should be connected to a global forum where major decisions are made. While power is indeed concentrated in global cities with big political, financial and multilateral institutions, we should not forget that the everyday security challenges that people face do not need to be solved in these global cities. Small local initiatives make incremental change. At the same time, by reproducing the global-local distinction, we can legitimise an exclusion of communities and individuals who we consider not to be part of the global space. In reality, the world is connected. That is why translating and connecting local voices to global fora is not sufficient. We should also teach the so-called global actors to learn how to understand the local context. 

Reflect critically on what is understood as data and evidence

In the tool, we refer to data as ‘ systematically collected information, gathered in a methodical way, the goal of which is to provide credible information to facilitate decision-making and policy design or adaptation.’ It is important however to remain critical on what is counted and not counted as data. In conflict-affected settings, collecting data in a rigorous and scientific way can be challenging. Taking a methodical approach should therefore be understood in a broad sense that includes (a combination) of among others interviews, surveys, action research. While policymakers tend to assess quantitative and aggregated data as more scientific fact than experiential and perceptual stories, what we understand as data and evidence should not exclude the latter. It is important to realise that, with limited means and capacity, you can present the empirical reality on the ground. Being transparent about the limitations in your data collection process – what you can and cannot say on the basis of this data – is often appreciated by policymakers.

Reflect critically on selection bias in your representation of  local voices 

In an attempt to localise their advocacy efforts, I/NGOs cooperate with local partners and invite the so-called local voices to speak on behalf of their conflict-affected communities. Overcoming a selection bias has proven to be a serious challenge in this process. Organizations tend to select local partners and consultants who understand their codes.  In various global policy fora, the dominance of English and French exclude people from conflict-affected settings who don’t master those languages. Similarly, blind efforts to localise can exacerbate existing tensions and inequalities.  If not done properly, localisation efforts can feed elite dominance. Marginalised groups (including women, ethnic minorities, illiterates) tend to be overlooked. That is why organisations need to critically reflect about how they engage with the local communities and the extent to which they managed to overcome various biases in their selection process. The Every Peace Indicators, for instance, provides a methodology that can inspire I/NGOs to overcome elite dominance in their attempt to capture the local perspective. 

An open invitation for dialogue 

The tool ‘Data advocacy with conflict-affected communities’ reflects on these and other challenges and provides guidelines and strategies that I/NGOs can use in their attempts to connect local perspectives to various levels of policymaking for evidence-led advocacy.  Both the tool and the blog are an open invitation for a dialogue on challenges that organizations face in their attempts to bring local perspectives to policymaking processes to increase human security. We hope to hear from you in this collective learning process.