In late 2019, the UN Secretary-General’s Peacebuilding Fund (PBF) commissioned a synthesis review of evaluations of PBF funded projects and portfolios between 2017 and 2019. The purposes of this synthesis review are to distill examples and patterns of higher-level peacebuilding results, as well as recurring lessons and challenges, analyze insights for PBF’s design, monitoring, and evaluation practice, and provide conclusions and recommendations from the evaluations for the implementation of the Secretary-General’s Peacebuilding Fund 2020-2024 Strategy, which was finalized in March 2020. The synthesis review is based on qualitative analysis of eight portfolio evaluations, forty-six project evaluations, two lessons learned reviews, and three evaluability assessments conducted during 2017 and 2019, complemented by select project documents, including conflict analyses.
The synthesis review was commissioned at a strategic moment for the Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO) and PBF: PBF has been funding peacebuilding initiatives now for fifteen years, since 2006. Even though there are other global joint UN programs on peacebuilding and conflict prevention, such as the DPPA-UNDP Joint Program on Building National Capacities for Conflict Prevention, which deploys Peace and Development Advisers, the PBF remains the only truly UN-wide funding mechanism for peacebuilding initiatives. Between 2017 and 2019, the PBF approved over US$ 531 million in peacebuilding initiatives in fifty-one countries, more than doubling the US$ 218 million in the previous three-year cycle. Since May 2018, PBF has required independent evaluations for all PBF funded projects, as well as portfolio evaluations every five years.
This is also a critical time to look at peacebuilding within the UN system more broadly. The 2016 twin resolutions on peacebuilding and sustaining peace (General Assembly and the Security Council in resolutions A/RES/70/262 and S/RES/2282) have asked all UN agencies to articulate their role and contributions to peacebuilding more clearly, and to prioritize collective action across the UN system. The 2020 Review of the UN Peacebuilding Architecture represents an additional critical moment for the PBF right now to articulate how it mobilizes and supports the UN system to contribute to peacebuilding more effectively and collectively.
The PBF has made much progress and generated many lessons over the past fifteen years of peacebuilding funding, and those learnings are now more consistently documented through the increased number of mandatory PBF evaluations. At the same time, the 2017 – 2019 evaluations revealed many of the same limitations and gaps for greater peacebuilding impact in PBF funded initiatives that were found in previous evaluations and past PBF reviews. Hence, putting this synthesis review in the larger context of past review findings, there is an overarching question regarding how to enhance long-term peacebuilding capacities across the UN system as well as how to stimulate organizational learning and sustainable uptake of past lessons.
The synthesis review uses the OECD/DAC evaluation criteria for peacebuilding activities in settings of conflict and fragility as quality criteria for review. The evaluations reviewed applied OECD/DAC criteria to varying degrees, and the quality of evaluations varied greatly. ‘Effectiveness’ is interpreted differently across the evaluations, sometimes more as general development effectiveness rather than peacebuilding effectiveness, which requires engaging drivers of conflict and peace as identified in a conflict analysis. Qualitative and aggregate data at portfolio levels was not readily available, which makes evaluating results and impacts at PBF portfolios levels difficult. The uneven quality and focus across the different evaluations is also due to how they are designed and managed: project evaluations are managed by recipient UN organizations (RUNOs) and recipient non-UN organizations (NUNOs) in a decentralized way at country level, while portfolio evaluations are commissioned and managed by the PBF in New York.
When started in 2006, the main intention for PBF was to provide catalytic funding to address specific and imminent peacebuilding needs in post-conflict situations. Over the years, in many contexts, the PBF has become a source of long-term funding for peacebuilding, including in contexts with ongoing fragility and polarization, political transitions and protracted crisis, and not only immediate post-conflict situations.
The PBF provides a critical UN contribution to peacebuilding in many countries through RUNOs and NUNOs, and in support of national government efforts. Against the background of the sustaining peace agenda, the PBF remains a critical vehicle in the UN system for providing resources across the UN family to increase the footprint of all UN agencies in peacebuilding, as stipulated in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.