ORB International: How to Create Community-Generated Indicators

Feb 11 2022

Measuring improvements in governance, non-violent conflict management, countering violent extremism (CVE) and community peacebuilding are not as easily quantified in comparison to other development sectors, such as health, education or agriculture. Yet, understanding how foreign aid can effectively contribute to peace and stabilization is essential to maintaining development gains achieved in all sectors.

In West Africa, understanding the best approaches to community peacebuilding is particularly relevant to populations confronted with Violent Extremist Organization (VEO) threats, violent conflict and displacement. To do this, Opinion Research Business (ORB) International is implementing the use of the Community Generated Indicators (CGI) participatory evaluation methodology in affected communities of the Liptako-Gourma region under the Peace through Evaluation, Learning, and Adapting (PELA) Task Order (TO). PELA is implemented by International Business for Technical Consultants Inc. (IBTCI) made possible with the support of USAID West Africa’s Regional Peace and Governance Office (RPGO).

The CGI methodology is an approach derived from existing participatory approaches to qualitative data collection and aims to better understand hard-to-measure concepts, such as peace and violent extremism (VE).1 Traditionally, donor agencies and international partners design top-down monitoring and evaluation (M&E) systems tied to programmatic outputs and outcomes. The CGI methodology is innovative insofar as it relies on indicators generated by target populations themselves rather than those identified by external stakeholders.2 CGI is grounded in the premise that conflict-affected populations know the community context best and, therefore, have the best understanding of what works and doesn’t work when it comes to various development approaches. In this regard, the methodology parallels the assumptions of USAID’s Local Capacity Development Policy and synergizes with participatory development practices more broadly.

The CGI methodology entails three core steps: 1) Develop 2) Verify and 3) Analyze.

At the development stage, moderators engage local community members through focus group discussions (FGDs) to generate highly localized indicators of complex constructs such as peace or violent extremism. A series of questions (Ex. “How do you know when you are at peace with your neighbors?”), in tandem with extensive probing, elicits granular detail that speaks to the everyday, lived experiences of affected communities. These discussions inform the development of dozens of indicators, which are then refined and compiled into a comprehensive “longlist” that captures the perspectives, needs, and priorities of community-based stakeholders.

At the verification stage, the comprehensive indicator list is presented to a larger group of community members to discuss and vote on which indicators they find most relevant to the community context. This process, in turn, highlights the values of the individuals that development initiatives are designed to benefit rather than those of international actors or institutions. 

During analysis, the final indicator lists are qualitatively coded under various categories and analyzed as a function of community voting results. The most salient indicators and indicator themes as indicated by communities can then be incorporated into M&E systems at the local and regional levels to allow development practitioners to tailor their approaches, thereby informing more valid and effective programs and policy. 

ORB has conducted research and capacity-building activities on CGI in the Liptako-Gourma tri-state region of Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso as well as several states of Northeast Nigeria since 2019. 

ORB implemented the methodology across fifteen USAID intervention areas in Liptako-Gourma to explore localized notions of peace and VE with the support of IBTCI and RPGO. This research resulted in the production of a large repository of peace and VE indicators specific to the communities engaged, which was the first large-scale application of the CGI approach. The results were shared with national stakeholders and USAID country missions and published in the Development Experience Clearinghouse (DEC). ORB was later commissioned to develop and deliver a training of trainers (ToT) curriculum to familiarize USAID implementing partners with CGI’s various applications in program design and measurement.

ORB is currently conducting follow-on CGI research to understand how indicators evolve over time, especially as West Africa continues to be a locus of significant political developments on the continent. ORB’s further research is also designed to explore how the CGI methodology can be applied to other sectors, such as democracy and governance (D&G).

1Kaye, Sylvia & Harris, Geoff. (2018). Participatory Action Research for Peacebuilding. Peace Review. 30. 62-68. 10.1080/10402659.2017.1419933

2USAID (2020), “Community Generated Indicators: Training Toolkit,” USAID Development Experience Clearinghouse (DEC). Accessed January 28, 2022, at: https://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PA00X2ZH.pdf