How data analysis can help build world peace


Steve Killelea


One of the most impactful philanthropic gifts in Australia’s history has founded an innovative research institute that is influencing traditional thinking on matters of security and development.

In order to understand how to build peace, it is not enough to study conflict. A great amount of well-intentioned work has taken place under the banner of peace studies, but in reality, it should be called conflict studies. Trying to understand peace by studying war is like trying to understand what it is to be healthy by studying illness: it might help us to understand how to cure a particular sickness, but will tell us little about how to stay healthy and avoid illness in the first place.

The Global Peace Index, launched in 2007, filled an empirical gap. Based on rigorous quantitative and qualitative analysis, the index ranks 163 countries, measuring 99.7 per cent of the world’s population according to their levels of internal and external peacefulness. From this, it is possible to calculate the cost of violence to the global economy, which is around $14.7 trillion. Probably the most profound outcome of this body of work was developing a clear conceptual understanding of what are the attitudes, institutions and structures that create and sustain peaceful societies. This is known as Positive Peace and stands as the only empirically derived body of work in its area. Prior to the development of the Global Peace Index there was no standardised measure of national peacefulness.

The idea to collect data that would allow the measurement of a fuzzy concept like peace came about in one of the most violent places in the world. After more than a decade of supporting development programs helping the poorest of the poor through my family foundation, The Charitable Foundation, it became evident that peace was the key facilitating factor underpinning development. While undertaking aid work in north-east Kivu in the Congo, I had the realisation that there was no reliable research that ranked the countries of the world by their peacefulness, and that without proper measurement and understanding, humanity would never know whether it was making a positive difference. The Institute for Economics and Peace was established soon after, with funding that was recognised as one of the 50 most impactful philanthropic gifts in Australia’s history by a coalition of Australian foundations.

More than a decade of peace data analysis has led to the development of a variety of reports and initiatives based on research insights from the institute. The Positive Peace Report outlines a new approach to societal development and peace making through Positive Peace principles and Systems Thinking. Based on years of Global Peace Index research, including the statistical analysis of more than 4000 cross-country datasets, the institute developed the eight pillars of Positive Peace. This new conceptual framework uncovers the factors that underpin peaceful societies and is now used track the development of Positive Peace in 163 countries, in the annual Positive Peace Report.

Without insights like this, it will be difficult to understand whether our actions are helping or hindering us in the achievement of our goals in the field of peace making. It will also be difficult to have a reasoned policy debate about what creates peaceful societies. In the past, the concept of peace suffered from associations with the utopian anti-establishmentarianism. Peace advocates, at best, have been seen as being impractical and irrelevant to real world issues. The institute’s reports and data provide policymakers, researchers, the media and the interested public with reliable insight, analysis and recommendations. Through in-depth research and data analysis, we can shift the world’s attention focus to peace as a positive, achievable and tangible measure of human wellbeing and progress.

Steve Killelea is founder and Executive Chairman of the Institute for Economics and Peace and global philanthropist focused on peace and sustainable development.

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