Evaluating the German Civilian Peace Service – civil society silence and the opposite of aid transparency

The evaluation of the German Civilian Peace Service (CPS) is a fascinating case study about how aid evaluations are still produced and disseminated, how German civil organisations have been paralysed by fear and how a professional evaluation exercise that follows the accepted guidelines and standards is essentially an item of non-communication and probably a better/worse example of the aid transparency debate than any discussion around data transparency and standards could ever be.

What is the German Civilian Peace Service?
Another instrument of the German government for civil society peacebuilding is the Civil Peace Service (CPS), founded in 1999. With a number of particular features, the CPS is a unique instrument that does not exist in other countries. From its inception, the CPS has been a joint instrument by governmental and non-governmental organisations involved in peacebuilding and development activities, such as crisis prevention, violence reduction, and all other types of peacebuilding efforts also undertaken in the aftermath of large-scale violence. Deploying CPS experts is the main mode of cooperation between the CPS executing agencies and their partners in conflict-affected countries. At the end of 2009, the CPS had approved 583 CPS positions in 50 countries. The CPS has also come to serve as a model for other governments – a case in point is the Norwegian Initiative NORPEACE reveals, which aims at creating a similar institution. There is also an attempt to create a European Civil Peace Service. (p.1)
The main CPS implementation modality is sending CPS experts to partner organisations in conflict countries. The CPS deploys its experts under the German Development Worker Law that only allows for German and European Union citizens to be deployed. As a consequence, the CPS mainly deploys German citizens. The CPS strategy is based on the understanding that CPS experts bring qualifications, knowledge and resources that are not available locally, thereby contributing to intercultural cooperation with their personal working habits, creativity and solidarity. Furthermore, CPS experts use their status as outsiders to the conflict to provide credibility, legitimacy, impartiality and protection. The deployment of CPS experts lies at the heart of CPS projects, which can also include additional implementing modalities such as funding of local experts and project activities of partner organisations. (p.3)

It is noteworthy that the underlying civil society model is not discussed in the evaluation and changes to the model from the 1990s are not suggested. There is no debate whether NGOs have become part of the development industry or whether there are alternative forms of civic expression that may not be expressed by professional NGOs that are able to attract a German peace expert, because they speak the ‘right’ language. And talking about language: The report relies heavily on aid, evaluation and peace jargon which makes it difficult for anybody outside the ‘community’ to understand it (the famous ‘taxpayer’, civil society both in Germany and abroad) – but I will focus on it in the third part. 
The evaluation is relatively critical about the CPS, its management, recruiting practices and impact – but recommends to maintain it (it is 100% financed by the German government). When the German version of the report was published I found a number of press releases by the German NGOs that almost entirely focussed on the ‘the report suggested maintaining the CPS’ part and none of the critical recommendations. Moreover, I know from friends and colleagues in Germany that the whole evaluation process was contested for its entire 2.5 year duration – but none of this is reflected in the report:  

The evaluation took place in a particular political context that had to be taken into consideration (p.14; emphasis in original)
That’s it. These are the reflections on a contested evaluation process. Yes, those who were involved know exactly what this means, but the majority of readers will not have a clue or gain insight into the process. It took place behind closed doors.

Better than nothing? Why German civil society is afraid of discussing the CPS

The evaluation concluded that the CPS is a valuable instrument that is worth continuing. The CPS’s focus on civil society peacebuilding, primarily with a view to strengthening dialogue and recon-ciliation capacities in conflict societies, fits particularly well into the toolbox of Ger-many’s peacebuilding and development policy, which was developed on the basis of Germany’s historical experience in promoting reconciliation after the Second World War. The CPS has a number of strengths that set it apart from other civil society peace-building instruments and testify both to its achievements and to its future potential.

However, the CPS needs to be substantially strengthened in profile and operations in order for these poten-tials to be harnessed and for the CPS to become a more significant actor within the framework of Germany’s peacebuilding and development policies. There is also significant room for improvement in the BMZ’s steering and management of the CPS.

This means continuously developing strengths while addressing weaknesses much more systematically. Most of the proposed changes can be carried out within the context of the CPS’s current framework. However, substantial changes to the current practice of management and implementation by both the CPS executing agencies and the BMZ will be required. (pp.xiii-xiv)

The year is 2011 and more than 10 years after its inception a major conclusion is ‘well, the CPS makes Germany look kinda peaceful in the world’ and then you wonder why it took so long to get a grip on its management. I know from my own experience as a researcher on the CPS in Macedonia a few years ago that a lot of the discussions were centred on the ‘feel good factor’ of the CPS both for German civil society and it image in the world. There is nothing wrong about it per se and the roughly 140 million Euros that have been spent over 10 years could have been spent worse – but that’s not good enough of an argument in any aid and peacebuilding debate. The problem is that based on this report and the initial reactions from civil society not much learning will take place and the BMZ, the ministry for economic cooperation and development, will exercise more managerial pressure on organisations that often have a long standing history of resisting the state or at least challenging it. But as long as the money flows, fundamental discussions about the role of the CPS are unlikely to take place. I think that this says a lot about the learning and reflection culture in international peacebuilding and development, how institutionalised these processes have become and how they have created ‘orderly subjects’ in the German civil society (insert debate on Foucault and governmentality here...)

Aid transparency is not just about data
Thereafter, preliminary results were presented and discussed with CPS stakeholders in Bonn on 30 June 2010, followed by the drafting of the Synthesis Report that was also subject to quality control by internal CCDP experts, one external expert as well as by the BMZ division for peace and security and the evaluation division. A ZERO draft report was submitted to these BMZ divisions on 30 July 2010. Several rounds of review, editing and translation followed until the report was finalised and its summary published on the BMZ website in spring 2011 (pp.11-12).
Actually, the BMZ sent me a copy of the report in late September...

Processes, discussions and ‘several rounds of review’ are not supposed to take place in the open. This is the usual ‘best practice’ and challenging it needs to be done with the same vigour as demanding aid transparency in other areas. I can access budget figure for the CPS, but they don’t tell me anything about the projects, the people and the political dynamics. This goes back to my previous points that aid data and aid transparency should not focus on numbers alone, but equally applies to other forms of documentation, to processes and all the other fun areas where anthropologist like to stick their research noses in...

These are just first impressions from an evaluation report and process that deserves more attention and critical debates in Germany and in the ‘beneficiary’ contexts. Business as usual could undermine the legitimacy of the CPS in worse ways than an open, civilian discussion about the potentials and limitations of this instrument of German peacebuilding.

The synthesis report The German Civil Peace Service: Synthesis Report can be downloaded from the BMZ website


  1. Unfortunately, the jump link in the article doesn't go to the report. Is there another way to obtain it? For those interested in evaluation international humanitarian efforts, I have a paper on the subject. If you'd like a copy, please e-mail me at mbrenman001@comcast.net

  2. Hi Mark-thanks for your message. I fixed the link to the BMZ evaluation website and included a direct link to the short 12-page sythesis report. Happy to send you the full reports by email in exchange for your paper ;)!


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