I've just returned from a very interesting conference on measuring violence hosted by UNDP and the Small Arms Survey/Geneva Declaration. Measurement issues are always vexing in this field and the people that work on conflict are well aware of the challenges. It turns out that there are very few statisticians running around battlefields, tracking gangs and trafficking or monitoring coups and political instability.
First, let me say, we met for two days. The first included 12 (twelve!) presentations on challenges and approaches for measuring armed violence, and during the second day participants broke in to working groups to develop a list of "Millennium Development Goal (MDG)-like" indicators for violence reduction.
Both days were really helpful to our work on the World Development Report 2011. The first validated the measurement techniques we are using to quantify violence (core indicators being direct battle deaths, one-sided violence and homicides, complemented by other sources), and the second day challenged us in group exercises to try to come up with some MDG-style indicators on violence.
Measuring Armed Violence: This confirmed many of the approaches (and limitations) we face in collecting data on this topic. In addition to people who work with us on the WDR—Andy Mack (Human Security Report), Keith Krause/Rob Muggah (Geneva Declaration/Small Arms Survey), Debby Sapir (CRED) and Steven Malby (UNODC)—we heard presentations from WHO and BCPR representatives, as well as research institutions, including FAFO, STATaid, DIW and the Brazilian Forum on Public Safety.
Their presentations were particularly helpful because they confirmed our approach for the WDR. Basically everyone agreed that direct battle deaths and one-sided violence data from PRIO and homicides from UNODC are the best available sources, though minor improvements can be made at the margin through additional input. A few relevant and interesting tidbits out of related work presented:
- Steven Malby (UNODC) presented on homicide data and had two very compelling graphs. The first was on the relationship between governance and homicides, showing not only a negative relationship, but a clustering of types of countries. The second figure was on disaggregated homicides in the Philippines, which showed spikes in homicides in Manila around the time of elections. This is really fascinating stuff, why are those spikes there?
- Rodrigo Soares presented some compelling comparisons on crime rates (from victimization surveys) and reported crime rates (from police records), showing that reporting rates are much lower in countries with high corruption. This is kind of the core part of the expectations and institutions argument we are exploring in the WDR—corruption serves as a tax on crime reporting, broad perceptions of corruption in government in general can lead to less trust of police which results in lower rates in general.
|Photo © Arne Hoel/World Bank|
MDG-like Indicators: On the second day, we broke in to three groups and were tasked with brainstorming on what MDG-like goals, targets and indicators would look like on armed violence. This exercise and the presentations and discussion that followed were very interesting, reflecting various perspectives of disciplines and agencies. We found consensus on only one clear goal: 'Reduce armed violence'—measured basically by battle deaths, homicides and indirect deaths (where possible). Other goals suggested by the group included reducing indirect impacts of armed violence (costs), limiting the enabling environment for conflict and violence (risk reduction), and a process goal of developing violence reduction programming. However, all of these last three had significant disagreement around the table.
As an economist, I have to wonder whether reducing the costs of armed violence is a good goal—no matter how you interpret 'costs'—from realized deadweight loss to actual expenditures on conflict (or avoiding it). Shouldn't we be lowering the number of incidence and not the costs associated with conflict?