During a recent conversation with Milt Lauenstein and Jessica Berns, I became interested in the question of which peacebuilding tool might be the most cost-effective and how to answer this important question.

One idea I had was to assign an average cost to several peacebuilding tools and this step was actually fairly easy. For example, the cost of running a peace camp would obviously be much less than the costs of staffing a UN office in a conflict-prone country.

Next, I had to decide how these tools could be assessed in terms of their impact in order to reveal which one is most cost effective. I decided the best way to do that would be to measure impact in several different ways such as considering the ability to curb violence quickly, the potential to alter the perceptions between the parties and the potential to create policy changes.

My results are contained in the following chart and, surprisingly, using this methodology I found that the 3 most cost-effective peacebuilding activities are lobbying, unarmed civilian peacekeeping and conflict resolution training (in that order).

In this manner I was also able to rank all of the peacebuilding tools according to their impact and mediation came out as a clear winner. In fact, there’s a 10 point jump between mediation and third-ranked lobbying which indicates that mediation is significantly more effective than lobbying but almost as good as UN Good Offices functions.

Use of force is the single most expensive activity, yet it is ranked as being about as effective as nonviolent resistance in terms of its impact (whereas nonviolent resistance costs a very small fraction compared to the use of force).

The least expensive peacebuilding activity (peace rallies/marches) is also the least effective.

The most cost effective peacebuilding activity in terms of greatest impact for least cost is lobbying which has a low cost (2) but very high impact score of 39.

The second most effective peacebuilding activities are unarmed civilian peacekeeping and conflict resolution training both of which rank right in the middle in terms of costs (2.5) but have fairly high impact scores of 28.5 and 31.5.

In the future, I’d like to conduct more research on this topic and I think the list of impacts could be expanded to consider other factors plus I’d like to see the impact rankings re-calculated based on averaging the results from surveying a number of other experts in the field. While this is a rather rudimentary examination of this research question I was surprised by the results and it certainly re-affirmed for me the need to undertake a deeper study.

Peacebuilding Activities Ranked by Impact from High to Low


UN Good Offices


Conflict Resolution Training

Nonviolent Civil Resistance

Use of Force

Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping

Peace Activism

Peace Camps

Sports & Rallies