Peace scholars, practitioners, policymakers, and funders at a February 2020 workshop at the Carter School’s Point of View Retreat and Research Center.
When Milt Lauenstein retired from his distinguished career in business management in 2001, he knew he wanted to dedicate both his time and his resources toward doing good in the world—and in particular, toward alleviating human suffering.
To that end, he has been providing support to a wide variety of peacebuilding and conflict resolution initiatives over the last two decades, including to the Purdue Peace Project at Purdue University, and Impact:Peace at the Joan P. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice at the University of San Diego.
Now, Lauenstein is continuing this effort through his support of the Better Evidence Project (BEP), a new initiative based at George Mason University’s Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution.
BEP involves a wide variety of organizations working toward a common goal: conducting research to generate more precise and usable evidence on how to reduce violent conflict.
The need for such an initiative is clear. According to Lauenstein, recent warfare “has resulted in 70 million refugees and internally displaced persons, and [it] costs trillions of dollars per year.”
While peacebuilders have done a lot of good in recent decades, more robust efforts are needed to generate evidence on how best to “reverse the trend toward increasing political violence,” he said.
Embarking on such an initiative requires an element of risk-taking and courage.
“One of the challenges is that people in the field tend to have a vested interest in the status quo. They are doing their thing, and they hope that it will contribute to peace,” Lauenstein said. “But I’d say people are reluctant to risk finding out that what they’re doing isn’t really doing anything good.”
The Better Evidence Project was thus created to provide a space for scholars and practitioners to break away from the tempting familiarity of the status quo and to support empirical research focused on generating the evidence they need to allocate their resources to achieve better peacebuilding outcomes.
Susan Allen, who is BEP’s principal investigator and an associate professor at the Carter School, says that while the peace and conflict studies field boasts a wealth of stakeholders, a lack of information sharing across the field remains a major barrier to making evidence of effective peacebuilding better known.
Recognition of this barrier helped seed the idea for the Better Evidence Project, which was launched in February 2020 following a workshop involving 36 scholars, practitioners, policymakers, and funders at the Carter School’s Point of View International Retreat and Research Center in Lorton, Virginia.
To carry out its mandate, BEP will focus specifically on “reducing large-scale political violence and warfare” by carrying out strategic planning that is meant to address “how better evidence plays out in those scenarios,” according to the project’s first executive director, Kristina Hook.
“One of the questions that [is] always at the forefront [of the CPP] is, ‘What’s the practical impact of this research?’” said Allen.
It’s a question that the Better Evidence Project will now also have at the center of its work. In seeking to ensure that its research can be translated to inform policymakers and practitioners, while also allowing the insights of policymakers and practitioners to be translated back into further research, BEP will continue a long tradition at the Carter School.
“A very important part of the Carter School DNA and the Carter School identity is the fact that research should be connected to practice. And that is the driving impulse of the Better Evidence Project,” said Hook. “I think that being under the larger umbrella [of the Carter School], and being able to tap into [its] resources, is a dream come true for a new initiative like this.”
November 18, 2020 / by Audrey Williams (originally published here by the Carter School)