Measuring What Matters in Peace Operations and Crisis Management
Sarah Jane Meharg
McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2009
303 pages, $39.45

Stones into Schools
Greg Mortenson
Viking, 2009
420 pages, $34.99

Gauging the success of Canada’s Own the Podium program at the 2010 Vancouver games will be far easier than determining the effectiveness of our nation’s efforts in Afghanistan when combat troops withdraw in 2011.

Fortunately, Professor Sarah Jane Meharg offers a learning tool, Measuring What Matters, which should assist in the challenge of evaluating the impact of Canada’s intervention.

The book was written to shed some light on the various “stakeholder approaches to measuring progress.” Indeed, it is considered “an integral part of the measures of effectiveness handbook and training module” available from the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre.

The four introductory chapters, written by Professor Meharg, provide a framework for considering the eight guest vignettes on the topic of measuring what matters based on their particular field experience.

Important to consider is a point raised in the first chapter: not only do those purportedly providing assistance have a “worldview” that flavors how their particular organization determines “progress” and “success,” but there are so-called beneficiaries involved – “those who supposedly derive benefit from the intervention.”

Theories of intervention and the language and mechanisms of measuring all merit a chapter that prepares the reader for a case study on Bosnia-Herzegovina based on some of the 80 interviews undertaken for this project.

Meharg then shifts to the role of editor to share the views of eight practitioners before applying her intellectual insight and relating these perspectives to development of policy. The chapters in the final section devoted to the concept of “common tradespace” and trends that she sees emerging speak to the so-called 3D and whole-of-government approaches espoused officially by the Canadian government.

The concluding chapter serves out a number of gems, reminding readers that “interventions are experiments”; that we are attempting to use “two dimensional knowledge management systems to measure non-linear dynamics,” and most important, that “understanding thinking becomes a way of planning.”

One can only hope that Meharg finds the time at some point to share her view of Stones into Schools, Greg Mortenson’s follow-on to Three Cups of Tea.

It remains to be seen if this book is the publishing success of the author’s first volume. Readers can judge for themselves if the efforts to date of the Central Asia Institute (CAI), which Mortenson leads, have been effective in making education available to an ever-increasing number of girls. An annex on the huge return to be made by investing in girls’ education explains why this goal is a priority and the primary objective of CAI.

Mortenson offers evidence of the effect these female graduates have when they return to their original communities to provide health care or teaching expertise, a rare sight in villages in which males more often deliver such knowledge.

He recounts the CAI’s response to the Pakistani earthquake disaster and describes development efforts in Afghanistan’s key Kunar Province. (Read Come Back to Afghanistan for another first person account of Kunar post 9/11.) The creation of educational opportunities in the remote Wakhan Corridor makes the six maps provided a necessity for understanding this accomplishment.

If the aim of an evaluation process is to report to those who empower an organization with funds, then surely Stones into Schools merits consideration as a model. Certainly based on what Mortenson describes in this latest offering,
the CAI is making “progress” as well as operating “effectively.”

No doubt that is why his first book, Three Cups of Tea, is on the reading list of some American army operators and perhaps should be on the bibliography of any research on measuring what matters.

– Reviewed by Major (Ret’d) Roy Thomas, MSC, CD, MA (RMC)