PJI JOURNAL Spring/Summer 2021: Measuring Peace for Sustainable Development

Monday, February 15, 2021

By Kari Williams, Part-time Instructor, Peace and Justice Institute, and Institute for Economics and Peace Ambassador and Rotary Peace Fellow

Throughout our short history as a nation, we have demonstrated that we can do extraordinary things. The time for extraordinary is now. The need for meaningful participation to “build forward” is essential to ensure an inclusive, equitable and sustainable future. Yet, the shocks of COVID-19 and subsequent economic crisis have amplified many structural issues like racism, inequality and an underlying fragility in our democratic institutions and environment.

These challenges are not unique to the United States. They are multidimensional, complex and can traverse national borders. Thus, we must think globally and act locally to find and enact innovative solutions. This will require new ways of thinking, working, and cooperating at an unprecedented scale.

“Without peace, it will not be possible to achieve the levels of trust, cooperation, and inclusiveness necessary to solve our complex challenges, let alone empower the communities and institutions necessary to address them” (Killelea, 2020).

But how can we measure peace at the local, national or international level?

While many scholars and organizations have worked toward peace since the 1960s, the concept of peace has not always been taken seriously. Fortunately, this is changing. The empirical and economic case for why countries and communities should measure and invest in peace continues to grow. Organizations like the Peace and Justice Institute at Valencia College (PJI), the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), Rotary International and the United Nations are shifting the conversation on how peace can be understood, practiced, and measured.

The United Nations (UN), an international organization founded in 1945 which is made up of 193 member countries, works to promote peace, dignity and equality on a healthy planet. In 2015, as a comprehensive call to action, countries around the world adopted 17 global goals to address our most pressing global challenges. These 17 goals are called the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs) as part of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

One of the unique differences between the UNSDGs from their predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals, was the inclusion of a global goal designed to promote peace. The inclusion of SDG 16 for Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions resulted in part due to the advocacy of an international coalition which worked to ensure that peace was a prominent goal in the sustainable development agenda. Countries around the world now had a global goal and specific targets to help guide policy and practice to impact peace. In 2015, the UN Security Council and General Assembly reinforced this inclusion of peace by introducing the concept of “Sustaining Peace” to highlight a comprehensive focus on conflict prevention by understanding the factors that cultivate peace (United Nations, 2015).

Understanding what sustains peace cannot be discovered in the study of violence alone. Furthermore, while all 17 UNSDGs are interrelated and equally significant, if there is no peace, then sustainable development cannot be achieved. For example, we cannot eliminate poverty if we do not address high levels of violence and conflict. To realize one SDG goal, we must move forward all goals.

As one of the organizations which advocated for SDG16, the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), an independent, non-profit think tank, uses data-driven research to show that peace is a tangible measure of human well-being and development. IEP’s research identifies the benefits of violence reduction and improvements in peacefulness to measure and understand the drivers of sustainable peace. IEP aims to use evidence-based research to demonstrate that peace not only has a moral value, but a financial value as well (Institute for Economics and Peace, 2019).

Since 2008, IEP’s Positive Peace framework combined with a systems thinking approach, has provided a lens to identify and measure the factors that sustain peace.

“Positive Peace is defined as the attitudes, institutions, and structures that create and sustain peaceful societies. The eight positive peace pillars are the same factors that create peace and lead to many other positive outcomes such as thriving economies, better inclusion, high levels of resilience, and societies that are more capable of adapting to change. Positive Peace can be described as creating an optimum environment in which human potential can flourish” (Institute for Economics and Peace, 2019).

“Positive Peace is an effective predictor of socio-economic resilience for countries and communities because societies that operate with high levels of Positive Peace tend to be more effective in protecting lives and livelihoods, recover more rapidly from crises, and promote the peaceful resolution of grievances” (Editorial, 2020).

The aspiration to live in a peaceful, healthy, equitable, and sustainable society is universal. Whether implementing sustainable development policies at the local, national, or international level, operationalizing Positive Peace can help guide our recovery toward sustainable peace.


Editorial Staff. (2020). Measuring a country’s resilience using Positive Peace. Vision of Humanity. Retrieved from Vision of Humanity. 

Institute for Economics and Peace. (2019). Positive Peace report 2019: analysing the factors that sustain peace. Institute for Economics and Peace. Retrieved from Institute for Economics and Peace.

Killelea, S. (2020). Peace in the age of chaos. The best solution for a sustainable future. One Tree Films. Retrieved from Peace in the Age of Chaos.

United Nations. (2015). The challenge of sustaining peace. Report of the advisory group of experts for the 2015 review of the United Nations Peacebuilding Architecture. Retrieved from United Nations Nations Unies Report of the Age of the 2015 Peacebuilding Review.


1 Comment

  • Karen Murray said:

    Sustainability: Social, Economic, *ENVIRONMENTAL*

    I wish the the *all-encompassing pillar* of sustainability had been mentioned!


    PMTue, 23 Feb 2021 22:15:39 +0000Tue, 23 Feb 2021 22:15:39 +0000pm21,10:15 pm

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