Come on, Phil: put us out of our misery! What does the US Institute of Peace “Special Report on Evaluating Interfaith Dialogue” say?

Actually, the report says a vast amount and, although dating from 2004, is as relevant today as when it was first published. Below is the report’s summary, which is more than enough to give a flavour of what the document as a whole has to offer in terms of wisdom and common sense.

  • Religion has been, and will continue to be, a powerful contributing factor in violent conflict. It is therefore essential to include religion and religious actors in diplomatic efforts.
  • Interfaith dialogue brings people of different religious faiths together for conversations. These conversations can take an array of forms and possess a variety of goals and formats. They can also take place at various social levels and target different types of participants, including elites, mid-level professionals and grassroots activists.
  • In some ways, interfaith dialogue programmes may resemble secular peacebuilding programmes. In other ways, religious content and spiritual culture are infused throughout the programmes, distinguishing them from their secular counterparts.
  • Evaluation requires that a programme develop a clear statement of its goals, methods and outcomes. Making these explicit at the outset helps sharpen thinking by providing an explicit yardstick by which to measure a programme’s success.
  • Over time, the knowledge accumulated through these types of evaluation will expand our understanding of the actual and potential roles of religious dialogue in international peacemaking.
  • At the individual programme level, evaluation is concerned with three components: context, the factors in the general environment that may influence programme implementation and outcome; implementation, the core of the programme’s activities; and outcome, the effect of the programme on the participants, the local community and the broader community.
  • Proposing a relationship between a particular intervention or programme and a desired outcome assumes a theory of change. A logic model, which links outcomes (both short- and long-term) with programme activities and processes, is one way to clarify the theoretical assumptions behind a particular programme design so that it can be shared with all stakeholders as well as with the evaluator.
  • Evaluation must be an integral part of programme planning from the beginning and should be an ongoing process throughout the life of the project, providing feedback to programme managers and staff that enable them to improve their ongoing work. Because change happens over time, it is important to evaluate the programme beyond the completion of the project.
  • Evaluation must include, but not be limited to, personal, face-to-face interviews with programme participants. Other outcome measures might include the number and type of participants, programme spin-offs and post-programme meetings, as well as the amount of media activity and ultimately, of course, a demonstrable reduction in violence.

Here, here! Even if only the final point in the summary is acted on whenever interfaith dialogue is undertaken, the benefits will be considerable. Also, action in relation to the last point will quickly establish if the initiative was worth undertaking in the first place! I fear that many interfaith initiatives currently have no lasting influence, and part of the reason for this is that no structured evaluation of such initiatives is ever undertaken.

From the above, it seems to me that interfaith dialogue is of ultimate value only in so far as it leads to change (and for such change to be truly worthwhile, it must be in terms of violence reduction). What do you think? Moreover, when did interfaith dialogue last change YOU rather than merely reinforce your pre-existing opinions, beliefs, perceptions and/or prejudices? Tough one, eh? But so important, don’t you agree? Comments are welcomed.

Outside the old Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Outside the old Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Anglican Church, North Yorkshire

Anglican Church, North Yorkshire

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