How Can We Measure the State of the Peace Movement?

One of the prob­lems with the peace move­ment is that it rarely mea­sures itself. There are few met­rics that point to the effec­tive­ness of our work. There are a cou­ple of rea­sons for this:

  • It’s hard to mea­sure, often our sucess­es will be invisible;
  • Mea­sur­ing might show donors that favorite orga­ni­za­tions aren’t that influential;
  • We might real­ize we need to re-vision our work to speak to today’s con­di­tions rather than con­tin­u­al­ly try to re-create a “gold­en age” of peace move­ments past;
  • We might have to real­ly broad­en our coali­tions and invite new orga­ni­za­tions in.

Each peace move­ment group is an enti­ty unto itself. But they are also all parts of net­works with oth­er groups. Some­times these net­works are giv­en names and mem­ber­ship is for­mal­ly list­ed. But more often the net­works are infor­mal asso­ci­a­tions of like-minded orga­ni­za­tions who have shared his­to­ry, staff and past move­ment orga­niz­ing together.

The friend­ships behind these infor­mal alliances can often be a strength to over­worked staff peo­ple who can eas­i­ly feel dis­cour­aged. But it also means they all turn to each oth­er too much, and an effect which the mil­i­tary calls “incen­tu­ous ampli­fi­ca­tion” can occur. The heads of estab­lished peace groups will all talk only to the heads of oth­er peace groups to affirm each other’s impor­tance. Mean­while new groups are locked out of this bud­dy system.

Luck­i­ly the inter­net has giv­en us a way to mea­sure these net­works. If each estab­lished peace group is thought of as a “node,” then its impor­tance is a reflec­tion of it’s con­nec­tions to oth­er net­works and to oth­er nodes. Web search engines can mea­sure how many links each organization’s has with oth­er organizations.

Here at the Non­vi­o­lence Web, we pre­fer to use Altavista for this mea­sure­ment. A properly-constructed search query on Altavista will return the num­ber of links to the site’s home­page and to all of it’s sub-pages while not includ­ing the site’s own links to itself. Here’s the search string:

The num­bers reflect just how wide­ly our orga­ni­za­tions are linked to oth­er orga­ni­za­tions and where we fit in the larg­er net­works. Here’s how I’ve trans­lat­ed it for peace move­ment groups:

  • Under 100 links: unknown group, prob­a­bly a sin­gle individual’s pet project;
  • 100 – 500 links: a small group, respect­ed by its lim­it­ed core audi­ence but lit­tle known out­side it;
  • 500‑5000 links: a well-respected group thought of as the most pri­ma­ry source for a par­tic­u­lar type of activism but lit­tle known out­side the estab­lished peace movement;
  • 5,000 – 8,000 links: an impor­tant peace orga­ni­za­tion, well known and respect­ed out­side it’s core community;
  • 8,000 – 15,000 links: a well-known group even out­side the peace move­ment, one wide­ly rec­og­nized as being a hub of information.
  • 15,000 links: a widely-known orga­ni­za­tion such as Amnesty Inter­na­tion­al or Greenpeace.

Know­ing where we all stand acts as a good real­i­ty check for our ambi­tions. Each orga­ni­za­tion is strongest when it knows its core rep­u­ta­tion and bases its future work on a level-headed assess­ment of strengths, oppor­tu­ni­ties and weak­ness­es. We can be vision­ary and strate­gic —- indeed we must be to bring non­vi­o­lence to the world! —- but we must also be sure not to squan­der donors’ money.

One obvi­ous caveat: most peace orga­ni­za­tions don’t focus on the inter­net. A low rank­ing doesn’t mean that their work isn’t impor­tant or use­ful. Inter­net links are only one mea­sure­ment, one that needs to be tak­en in con­text. Still: when an indi­vid­ual or group links to our pages it does rep­re­sent a sort of endorse­ment, a indi­ca­tion that they iden­ti­fy with the work we’re doing. The link­er is telling oth­ers that this is a peace group they think their vis­i­tors should know about. We ignore these endorse­ments at our own folly.