By Eduardo da Costa, Published in Rotary International

The question of how to measure development and human well-being has attracted the attention of economists, policy-makers, researchers, and other social scientists for decades. For example, the Human Development Index produced by the United Nations seeks to measures a country’s achievements in three specific areas: living standards, health, and education.

But what about peace? How do we measure peace?

Measuring peace depends on how the term “peace” is defined by a person, organization, community, or country. For instance, people living in an indigenous community in the Brazilian Amazon rain forest may define peace as the conservation of their livelihoods from which they obtain food and other supplies. People living in a big city, however, may define peace as the prevalence of low crime and homicide rates and the access to employment opportunities. And people living in war zones may define peace as the end of the conflict that is destroying their homes and killing their friends and family members. In this sense, peace can be understood as a concept that has different meanings in different economic, social, political, environmental, and cultural contexts.

In Winnipeg, Canada, where I currently live and study, there is a community-based system that measures the city’s well-being called Peg.

Eduardo da Costa is a Brazilian Rotary Peace Scholar and Peace Ambassador for the Institute for Economics and Peace. He currently lives in Winnipeg, Canada, where he is studying for a PhD in peace and conflict studies at the University of Manitoba.

The indicators, developed in collaboration with a variety of local stakeholders, are grouped into seven areas: basic needs, health, education & learning, social vitality and governance, built environment, economy, and natural environment. Because it incorporates the perspectives, wisdom, and advice of Winnipeggers across all sectors, I believe Peg reflects what the local community considers to be the characteristics of a healthy and peaceful society. I think Peg is a good example of how peace can be measured in our city.

The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) measures peace through its Global Peace Index (GPI). It uses a combination of 23 quantitative and qualitative indicators to rank 163 countries according to their relative states of peace. The GPI is probably the most comprehensive of any current database on peace and conflict. It can be used to inform and influence policy making and to promote a culture of peace by enabling governments to increase the level of peacefulness in their countries. (Rotary has established a partnership with IEP to enhance its peace and conflict resolution efforts with data-driven methodologies and tools.)

For me, measuring peace is a process that must consider measures and variables that are relevant and meaningful to a given country, community, society, or organization. Just like development, peace is a concept that has a specific meaning in different global, regional, and local contexts and must be measured in ways that reflect the reality of each specific context.