Peace Science Digest

Photography in War-Torn Communities as a Tool for Peace? A Project by Everyday Peace Indicators


Everyday Peace Indicators partners with communities experiencing or emerging from violent conflict. We work globally with conflict-affected communities to generate bottom-up (“everyday”) indicators for hard-to-define concepts, like peace, conflict, and justice. Our research approach is underpinned by the premise that communities affected by war know best what peace means to them and accordingly should be the primary source of information on peacebuilding effectiveness. The community-derived everyday indicators in turn impact the way peacebuilding and development programs and policies are designed, implemented, and evaluated. Our work strives to influence broader debates about peacebuilding, advocating for greater integration of local, bottom-up measurements of success. 

[blockquote author=”” style=”1″]Our research approach is underpinned by the premise that communities affected by war know best what peace means to them and accordingly should be the primary source of information on peacebuilding effectiveness.[/blockquote]


Our work builds on, responds to, and addresses gaps in a few key bodies of research.

Local turn in peacebuilding 

There is a growing awareness of the key role local actors play in peacebuilding. The term “local,” however, can mean many things. International actors frequently use this term to describe actors at the state or sub-state level, rather than ordinary, everyday people. This is why we work directly with community members in conflict-affected areas to capture indicators of “everyday” peace.

Monitoring and evaluation 

Often, little concern is given to investigating whether the results from top-down monitoring and evaluation systems are measuring outcomes based on the values and needs of elite interests, or whether they reflect those of the people the interventions are intended to assist—i.e., everyday people in communities affected by violence. For this reason, we work with everyday people to determine how they perceive progress in their communities.

Participatory numbers 

Our methods are informed by the field of participatory numbers, which seeks to infuse participation into the research design and data collection of quantitative approaches. For us, this means that communities decide which issues are most important to them, how to formulate these issues as indicators, and the extent to which they should be weighted.


To address the concerns about top-down peacebuilding efforts, the Everyday Peace Indicators’ (EPI) research approach was developed, based on a long history of critical scholarship in international relations and peace and conflict studies, and informed by bottom-up, participatory approaches.  

The EPI research approach provides a way to understand and measure difficult-to-measure concepts like peace, reconciliation, governance, and violent extremism. Instead of outside experts and scholars developing indicators of success, communities themselves are asked to establish their own everyday indicators. These are then measured longitudinally to assess changes in community perspectives over time.  

The EPI process has four stages: 

  1. Develop indicator lists through community focus groups.
  2. Verify lists through a two-step community-wide voting process.
  3. Analyze program and policy performance with the new EPI diagnostic tool.
  4. Survey communities frequently to monitor for changes in people’s perceptions.


Additionally, the EPI approach is especially powerful when combined with a visual, qualitative component: photovoice. Photovoice is a participatory action methodology that equips communities with photography tools and training so that they can visually capture and communicate the stories and issues that are most important to them.

Everyday Justice in Colombia 

We combined the EPI and photovoice approaches in our work on everyday justice in Colombia. Working in partnership with the Colombian Truth Commission (Commission for the Clarification of Truth, Coexistence and Non-Repetition), we are seeking to support state-wide efforts to assess and improve Colombia’s implementation of peace processes. We are currently working in the departments of Antioquia and Cauca, both of which were heavily impacted by Colombia’s civil war.

[blockquote author=”” style=”1″]Many of these participants (community photographers) find that they want to use photography not only to document the aftermath of war and violence but also to actively support peace.[/blockquote]

We work with the communities to first identify community-derived indicators for reconciliation and coexistence. These indicators can range from intuitive signs of coexistence, like “violent acts are not repeated,” to more nuanced and locally relevant indicators, such as “the community maintains the local cemetery” and “the state maintains access roads.”

Once the indicators are collected, we conduct photovoice workshops with a smaller group of community members. As part of the workshops, participants choose individual and collective indicators they’d like to photograph, and then they write captions that accompany the photos in an open-air, community exhibition. These exhibitions let community members honor what is important to them, take pride in their culture, call for justice, and highlight what is needed to build enduring peace.

“There is good waste management in Urama.” – Urama Photography Collective
“Armed groups and the state tell the truth about the war.” — Jaider Steven Manco Moná

Many of these participants (community photographers) find that they want to use photography not only to document the aftermath of war and violence but also to actively support peace.

Combining visual (photovoice) and non-visual (Everyday Peace Indicator) methods has led to three key observations: 

  1. It results in a more holistic way of capturing information—one that is both trackable and narrative focused.
  2. It enables less extractive and more locally relevant and productive research processes, promoting a more sustained presence of the research project, which enriches the relationship between researchers and participants.
  3. It unlocks opportunities for research participants and other community members to conduct advocacy, over which they have more direct ownership.  


Everyday Peace Indicators. Everyday justice in Colombia & the DRC. Retrieved October 22, 2021, from

Everyday Peace Indicators. PhotoVoice in Colomba. Retrieved October 22, 2021, from

Firchow, P. (2018). Reclaiming everyday peace: Local voices in measurement and evaluation after war. Cambridge University Press.

Firchow, P. (2020). World peace is local peace. Ethics & International Affairs, 34(1), 57-65. doi:10.1017/S0892679420000088

For further information see:


Pamina Firchow is the CEO of EPI and an Associate Professor in the Conflict Resolution and Coexistence program within the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. Her research interests include political violence, transitional justice (especially victim reparations), reconciliation, and peacebuilding. Her most recent book is Reclaiming Everyday Peace: Local Voices in Measurement and Evaluation after War (Cambridge University Press), which was awarded the 2020 Conflict Research Society Book of the Year Award.  

Tiffany Fairey is a Photovoice Associate at EPI. She is a visual sociologist and Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow based in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. Her latest research, Imaging Peace, examines the role of images and image-making in building peace and dialogue. Co-Founder of the award-winning charity PhotoVoice, Fairey has over 20 years of experience of working on participatory photography and photovoice projects around the world. Her work has been recognised with various awards including the Royal Photographic Society’s Hood Medal for outstanding advances in photography for public service.

Yvette Selim is a Research Advisor at EPI and a Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Public Policy and Governance at the University of Technology Sydney. Her research interests include transitional justice, victims’ rights, participation, development, and peacebuilding. She is the author of Transitional Justice in Nepal: Interests, Victims and Agency (Routledge). 

The authors wish to acknowledge the assistance of Miranda Pursley. 

Photo credit: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images