Category Archives: Measuring Outcomes

Peace and Prosperity: What Will It Take?

We know what brings peace and prosperity. The Institute  for Economics and Peace has been studying that for 13 years, publishing annual “Global Peace Index” and “Positive Peace Index” reports.

The Global Peace Index looks at the presence (or absence) of violence and the threat of violence. The United States is in the bottom half of nations in the GPI.  Our North American neighbor, Canada, is by contrast in the top 10 most peaceful countries. The US score has been declining in the last few years, and in the 2020 report, the US is ranked 121 out of 163 countries. You can explore current and past rankings for the US and other countries here.

The lack of peace has a cost.  Overall economic losses related to violence or the threat of violence include direct costs to people and property and also losses related to productivity shortfalls and adverse effects on consumption and spending patterns. As the 2020 GPI report states, “Expenditures on preventing and dealing with the consequences of violence divert public and private resources away from productive activities and towards protective measures.” The Institute estimates the economic cost of violence in the United States at 8% of GDP. 

More peace means more money for a country’s citizens to flourish.  The Institute also studies the factors that lead to greater peace, referring to these as “positive peace.”  Key factors of a peaceful and prosperous society include: equal distribution of resources, free flow and quality of information, low levels of corruption, a sound business environment and well-functioning governments.

High levels of Positive Peace strengthen a country’s resilience “to absorb, adapt and recover from shocks, such as COVID-19 and the ensuing recession.” (GPI 2020 Report, p. 4).  Here the US scores higher, ranking 26 out of 163 (PPI Report 2019, 26-27) — although its scores are declining here as well.  Attention to and strengthening our performance on the positive peace factors could enhance our recovery. 

The US is often said to be the wealthiest country in the world, so it’s not our lack of natural assets that contribute to our lower rankings on the peace indices (or other indices of social well-being such as the Social Progress Index).

As our country starts to recover from the pandemic, we have an opportunity to build a more peaceful and prosperous country.  This will require taking a hard look at how we allocate our resources, particularly between production and protection, and rebuilding trust between citizens and their government.

We know what to do. Will we?

*Thank you to Vincent Leloux, a Rotary Youth Exchange student from Germany who interned with us in Spring, 2020 before returning home, for his help with this post.

Simple Tools For Sorting and Mapping Public Input

Last week on a call with others who are working on “naming and framing” various issues in their communities, someone asked for recommendations on how to sort the notes of various volunteers into a summary document that would be useful. As we discussed on the call, one simple low cost approach is to set up a spreadsheet (using a platform like Google Drive allows for easy sharing) that corresponds to the five sources of conflict.  As they take notes, volunteers can code them (V = values, S = structure, R= relationships, IN = interests, and IF = information) and then sort those later into the corresponding sections of the spreadsheet. Levels of intensity can also be marked on the notes with a + corresponding to higher levels of emotion and ++indicating an even higher level of tension evidenced by  “us v. them” language and active expressions of threat or fear.

As a baseline, those coordinating a project might map what they expect to hear based on sources like newspapers and blogs and then, as notes are entered, analyze whether what they are hearing confirms or challenges those expectations.  Other sources external to meetings or planned dialogues could also be captured and compared throughout a project.

Another tool we have used to track dialogues is to sort comments and questions into a grid tracking “What” (what topics are coming up, what themes are appearing, what information is being used, what values are referenced, what tensions are present; what regulatory or other limitations exist, etc.); “Who” (who is present, who is missing, who is referenced, who would be affected, who can help, etc.); “How” (how would we accomplish that, what resources are available, how can they be accessed, and “Why?” (this category encompasses mission, and vision (why are we doing this?), ideal scenarios (why not dream big?), and creative thinking (“why not do this a different way?)).  Grouping things this way during a discussion has the added benefit of helping the facilitator in real time identify, sort, and sequence questions in ways that promote effective  group discussion.

A complementary process that might be used as volunteers report in, particularly to capture new people and organizations being brought in, ideas generated, and actions taken, would be to track those through ripple mapping.  In any event, planning questions or categories in advance that help you “harvest data as you go along” will make the job of compilation and analyzing what you have much easier!

Ferguson: Can We Move Forward? Will We?

Ferguson, MO is not unique.  Although Ferguson may be the site of the most recent flare-up, other communities have experienced similar unrest in the past, and other communities are at risk for the future. Many of our communities experience divides and inequities similar to those in the Saint Louis metropolitan area.  Our communities, and our country, need to address these issues.

Will we?  These are hard issues.  It’s easier to say “they need to fix their problems in St. Louis” than to look at what needs to be fixed in our own communities.  Or to decry the violence and ignore the inequities that exist and the lack of hope that many feel.

Martha McCoy from Everyday Democracy once observed that the that “lack of civility is a symptom of a structural problem that requires a structural remedy.”  Part of that structural problem is our unwillingness to listen  to those whose experiences differ from our own.  Another is the limited opportunities for many citizens to be heard.  As we have noted before, all conversations occur at three levels, information, emotion, and identity.  When difference or conflict is strongly rooted in the lower levels, emotions are easily inflamed and decisions aren’t always made in rational way.

We can see all three levels of conflict at work in Ferguson – Info: what exactly happened when Michael Brown was shot?  Emotion: sadness, anger, fear are all present and being expressed.  Identity:  what does it mean to be “American”? to be a community? to have hope for a future? to “follow the law”? to care for one another? to help one another?  who are our fellow citizens?  When we don’t have good ways to discuss and resolve issues like this  in our communities or in our country, the hurt and distrust build and get loaded onto other issues, and often explode in unpredictable ways. We need more direct, and more frequent, dialogue over values, and identity, and community, and justice.

All people need real opportunities to be heard, to address the difficult issues that affect their lives, and to know that their thoughts and concerns — their very existence — matter to others and will be taken into account when decisions are made by those who allocate our resources and write or enforce our laws.  Building those opportunities is as much, if not more, the work of citizens as of our elected leaders.   If you are a member of a church community, a service group, or other network, start a dialogue about what troubles you and what can be changed.  You can find many resources here.  Share your vision of what could be if our divides were bridged. Raise the question of what we collectively lose when those divides are ignored. When leaders promise action, ask from the outset how progress will be evaluated and reported.  Evaluations should be honest, transparent, and rigorous, if we are to learn and grow together. If leaders ask for input, sign-up and participate.  Much has been asked of the Commission appointed by Jay Nixon to address many of the inequities in the St. Louis region.  Whether real change occurs depends on citizens watching, listening, sharing, and being willing to work together.

I frequently end trainings with a quote from Admiral Hyman Rickover: “Good ideas are not adopted automatically. They must be driven into practice with courageous patience.”  In addressing the events in Ferguson, President Obama has at various points asked us to  “listen and not just shout”, to “understand not just divide”, and to lift up the kinds of “constructive dialogue” that can lead to “real progress”. Engaging in serious dialogue with those we don’t know or trust takes courage, patience, and practice.  It also is the only way that builds community and creates real and sustainable changes.

We can do this.  If we are willing.

“America’s diversity offers so much richness and opportunity.  Take a chance won’t you?  Knock down the fences which divide.”  –Justice Thurgood Marshall

Accountability and Time Frames

One factor that has severely eroded our communal problem solving capacity is news and electoral cycles that are shorter than the long-lived consequences of various actions and policies.  The approach of reporting on political issues as if they were short term sporting events (who’s winning, who’s losing? who landed the latest blow? will it slow the opponent down?) further obscures the complexities of the issues at hand.  We rarely look back at the choices both made and not made and how they might have compared.  And we rarely look at what questions were not asked that might have led to a different result.

The Indiana Public Utilities Commission in an order addressing a request for emergency rate relief quoted last year from “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable Event” by Nassim Nicolas Taleb (Random House, 2007):  “We concentrate on things we already know and time and time again fail to take into consideration what we don’t know.”  The Commission rejected claims that the “emergency” triggering the request for rate relief was a “black swan” event — defined as an event that is unpredictable, carries a massive impact, and compels us after the fact to make up an explanation that makes it appear less predictable.  More often we are the victim not of an truly unpredictable event but of an unwarranted optimism at the outset, the failure to identify or analyze alternative (and likely) scenarios, and the failure to look at the interactive consequences among related issues.   This failure to plan for the long term in favor a short term benefit (such as keeping taxes or rates lower than they might otherwise be) is reflected in our deteriorating highways, bridges, utility infrastructure, and school systems.  Another example is the failure to look at the long term costs of imprisonment in favor of short term appeals to “law and order”, which resulted in a rapid rise in prison populations due to the incarceration of low-risk, non-violent offenders, and burdened state budgets to the extent that many states are now quietly looking for less costly alternatives.  Yet another example from recent years is the optimistic re-allocations of state funds for ethanol production, which unexpectedly raised animal feed, and ultimately food prices as demand for corn surged.

Lurching from crisis to crisis does not enhance our communal life.  As we design new structures for public dialogue, we can also expand our evaluation processes to focus on what have we learned and how we can ask better questions so as to make better choices.  As we look back at decisions made we might ask what data was missing and why? How can better data be obtained in the future?  What interactive effects were observed among issues and how can those be better anticipated?  Are there better, less costly ways to make progress towards a desired end?  Would the issues look dramatically different if we were looking at a 5, 10 or 20 year time frame?  Which frame best fits the need we are trying to meet?   This approach might also help us move beyond the winner-loser mentality of our current politics, and focus on who is helping us think in sustainable ways, and who is not.