LPI’s DRC programme was represented at the International Studies Association (ISA) convention in Atlanta, USA, this year, as part of ongoing activities in support of LPI’s third strategic priority (SP3) – knowledge exchange between academia and practitioners. Carol Jean Gallo, the Planning, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (PME&L) focal point for LPI’s DRC programme, organized and participated in a panel entitled “Participating in Peace: Ownership, Power, and Knowledge in the Study and Promotion of Peace.” Gallo presented a paper on one of LPI’s projects in South Kivu, in which LPI supports two local partners, Action pour le Développement et la Paix Endogènes (ADEPAE) and Réseau d’Innovation Organisationnelle (RIO). She co-wrote the article with Pieter Vanholder (former Resident Representative for LPI in DRC), Tharcisse Kayira of ADEPAE, and Murhega Mashanda of RIO.
The panel was organized to explore participatory methods in a variety of contexts. Gallo’s presentation included a brief history and conceptualization of participatory action research (PAR), which grew out of the social sciences in the United States in the 1940s. Methodologically, the premise of PAR is that the subjects of the research themselves, in some capacity, guide or conduct the research. As Kurt Lewin, the psychologist who first wrote about “action research” in 1946 put it, “Research that produces nothing but books will not suffice.”
As it is LPI’s goal to contribute to the empirical academic literature in peace and conflict studies by publishing the paper, the ISA conference provided an excellent opportunity to receive feedback on the article and to engage in stimulating discussions around questions raised by the discussants.
The other papers on the panel included a study of the politics of local knowledge and aid expertise in Somaliland (Anderson); an examination of grassroots approaches to non-proliferation (Reed); an assessment of the effectiveness of humanitarian organizations in peacebuilding (Guidero); and a study using PAR to explore education for a culture of peace in Nicaragua (Kertyzia). The papers complemented one another very well, and in discussing local knowledge and participation, all led to similar questions about the nature of international interventions. Interestingly, the panel topic attracted an almost entirely female audience.
Gallo also used the opportunity to network with other academics focusing on the DRC or Great Lakes Region, and attended several other panels on such issues as community level approaches to peace; the use of empirical investigations to build a ‘constructively critical’ theory of peace; and the roles women play in peacebuilding processes.
The ISA conference provided an ideal opportunity to engage with the academic world and to draw on research that is highly relevant to the work of LPI. It was therefore a significant contribution to knowledge exchange, in that other academics had the opportunity to learn from LPI’s experience, and LPI benefited from academic discussions and exchanges that will undoubtedly contribute to the DRC programme’s processes of reflection and learning.