Measuring Peacebuilding Cost-Effectiveness

Identifying what works in peacebuilding, how to measure its impact and cost-effectiveness is essential to prevent violence and build peace. Yet, there is much we do not know about peacebuilding, let alone what activities broadly define it.

At a time when the financial and operational resources for development aid and humanitarian action are under strain, the need to understand and invest in the most cost-effective ways to build peace is more crucial than ever.

The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) has constructed a global model of peacebuilding cost-effectiveness that shows increased funding would be hugely beneficial; not only to peacebuilding outcomes but in terms of the potential economic returns to the global economy. Using 20 years of expenditures in Rwanda as a guide for establishing a unit cost, IEP estimates the cost-effectiveness ratio of peacebuilding at 1:16.

The total peace dividend the international community would reap if it increased peacebuilding commitments over the next ten years (from 2016) is US$2.94 trillion.

This means that if countries currently in conflict increased or received higher levels of peacebuilding funding to appropriate levels estimated by this model, then for every dollar invested now, the cost of conflict would be reduced by 16 dollars over the long run. The total peace dividend the international community would reap if it increased commitments over the next ten years (from 2016) is US$2.94 trillion.

Based on the assumptions of this model, the estimated level of assistance required to achieve this outcome would be more than double what is currently directed toward peacebuilding for the 31 most fragile and conflict affected nations of the world. 

Conceptual challenges

Research efforts to assess peacebuilding effectiveness have been hindered by the lack of a single agreed-upon definition. Therefore, there is no clear, comparable country specific data on expenditures nor is there a clear understanding of where resources are being committed.

Whilst there is some consensus around certain types of activities related to violence prevention, there are a number of areas in which there is considerable overlap between peacebuilding, state-building, and development, and consequently no clear framework for making a clear distinction between the three.

There are similar questions regarding the timeframe. Traditionally, peacebuilding was only thought to take place in the immediate post-conflict environment. However, there is an emerging consensus that successful peacebuilding can take decades, and that activities undertaken prior to the onset of a conflict can build up levels of peacefulness.

Current spending on peacebuilding

Peacebuilding activities are a critical way in which donors and governments can tackle the sources of violence and address the weak institutional and state capacities that contribute to internal conflict and violence. But peacebuilding is a relatively overlooked aspect of official development assistance (ODA).

Conflict-affected countries do not represent the main beneficiaries of ODA. In 2013, they received only slightly more than 24 percent of total ODA, or US$41 billion. These countries received US$6.8 billion for peacebuilding activities, which represents 16 percent of their total gross ODA allocation.

With the global cost of violence reaching a staggering $13.6 trillion in 2015, just $15 billion was spent on peacebuilding and peacekeeping activities. This means that efforts to consolidate peace constituted a mere 0.12% of the total cost of violence.

Identifying cost-effectiveness

At the global level, the IEP model sheds light on the fact that building peace can be overwhelmingly cost-effective. However, this doesn’t reveal anything about which types of initiatives are the most suited to accomplish the end-goal.

For this reason, IEP has outlined a research program for the short, medium, and long-term that becomes increasingly granular. Starting from the global level, it would gradually drill down to the project level in order to fully flesh-out the cost-effectiveness of different activities.

The data generated in this first phase of research provides an extensive set of further options to model the statistical link between building peace and conflict onset or lack thereof.  These methodologies can be used to calculate and estimate the future peacebuilding needs that exist in particular countries.


Seeking cost-effective and impactful peacebuilding strategies is a key element to making sustainable progress in post-conflict and conflict affected nations. Peacebuilding works, the more nations invest the more we reap the rewards of its preventative and cost-saving effects. The next steps are further investigation and production of data that paints a clear picture for the best possible practice.