By Alison Giffen – Perceptions influence judgment, decision-making and action. They inform an individual’s decision to flee from or submit to violence, to denounce a perpetrator despite risk of retaliation, or to take justice into their own hands. The perceptions of conflict-affected communities are among the most important sources that peacekeeping operations and other external protection actors should consider when planning and conducting interventions to protect civilians from deliberate violence.
Despite the growing awareness that local voices are critical to violence prevention and peacebuilding in conflict-affected countries, there is very little understanding of or guidance on what kinds of perceptions are important for the planning, implementation and evaluation of interventions to protect.
Moreover, external protection actors such as peacekeeping operations often dismiss or deprioritize community perceptions of threats and vulnerabilities because they are self-reported and subjective. Instead these external protection actors favor data that are deemed objective, such as the number of deaths reported, because they seem more accurate or valid. In fact, data that are considered objective almost always have a subjective element to them. More importantly, community perceptions may be the most important variable in determining the outcome of a protection intervention because it is the communities’ perceptions of the facts that influence their behavior.
This brief explores the issue of community perceptions and provides recommendations on steps that policymakers and practitioners could take to address this gap in knowledge and guidance.
To read this issue brief, click here.
This is the second in a series of the Stimson Center’s Civilians in Conflict Issue Briefs, which address knowledge gaps that undermine strategies to protect civilians. The first Issue Brief, “Community Self-Protection Strategies, How Peacekeepers Can Help or Harm,” explores how communities protect themselves and why this is important in protection planning.
The issue brief series is a product of the Engaging Communities in Protection Strategies initiative, which seeks to protect civilians under threat by ensuring that conflict-affected communities are safely and effectively included in the development, implementation and monitoring of external protection strategies. The initiative’s outcomes are the result of research conducted with civil society partners and conflict-affected communities in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo in April 2012 and in South Sudan in May 2013, along with intensive desk research.
Visit Stimson’s Civilians in Conflict project website for additional information on how external actors can safely and effectively works to expand and improve international efforts to develop effective prevention and response mechanisms.
Photo caption: With anticipation and high expectations, communities from Bunia in the Democratic Republic of Congo greet French peacekeepers responding to months of intense fighting that caused the death and displacement of thousands in the spring of 2003.
Photo credit: UN Photo/A Burridge