Knowledge for Peace - Bringing Research, Policy and Practice Together

Briony Jones

Assistant Professor, Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick

The 6-10 November was Geneva Peace Week, “a collective action….Geneva Peace Week maximises synergies between organisations in Geneva, focused on the cross-cutting nature of peace”. With a huge variety of events related to the core theme of Prevention across Sectors and Institutions I chose to attend events focused specifically on knowledge in and on peacebuilding. While I was not surprised to see the impressive panel line-ups nor to hear the high quality of the discussions, I was surprised that the discussions centred on what to do with knowledge once we have it, and less to do with the politics of what comes to be understood as knowledge in the first place. How do we know knowledge when we see it?

I am currently leading a three year research project on Knowledge for Peace, Understanding Research, Policy, Practice Synergies: In this project we are interested in how the politics of knowledge production directly shapes policy choices. We look at transitional justice processes in Ivory Coast, Mozambique and South Sudan and ask whether working across the knowledge communities of research, policy and practice might help us all to incorporate more varieties of knowledge and to envisage policy options previously not thought possible. As an international research team based across three countries we are all convinced that such synergies, informed by an understanding of the politics of knowledge production, will ultimately lead to more informed, relevant and just policies for societies reckoning with a past of massive human rights violations.

To launch our project in early 2016 we held a series of events: a public roundtable, a closed international dialogue workshop and a team meeting. In the dialogue workshop our participants came from academia, non-governmental organisations and research institutes. Some are actively involved in trying to communicate with and shape policy and others not. We posed a series of questions:

  1. Do you understand yourself to be part of a knowledge community? How do you interact with other knowledge communities?
  2. What counts as knowledge in your work?
  3. What forms, contexts and sources of knowledge would be likely to shape or change the work that you do?

Right at the beginning, one of the participants who works for a non-governmental organisation in Geneva said “that first question doesn’t even make sense to me…this is a researcher kind of question”. She didn’t mean of course that she didn’t understand the question, just that the question and the way it was posed was not relevant for prompting her to think about the politics of knowledge. There followed a lively debate in which we focused on the importance of common ground, of the importance of case studies and lessons learned shared by those with time to reflect with those who do not have such time. In the end what really stuck out for me were two comments, one by a researcher-practitioner who said “to be a relevant knowledge community you need to break the boundaries of it” and the other by an academic who asked “who tells us what useful knowledge is?”

And so I come back to the dynamic and thought provoking Geneva Peace Week events during which reflections on evidence, data, knowledge sharing, and measuring impact were key. The discussions reinforced my conviction that in contexts of complexity and varied data challenges – such as peacebuilding interventions – we could benefit from posing different kinds of questions. It is not only relevant how we use and share evidence, but what we consider to be evidence in the first place will either expand or restrict the knowledge base on which we make judgements, claims and communicate with actors within or outside our knowledge communities. 

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