Finding Our Values in Peacebuilding


Michaelina Jakala, Miho Taka, Kyoko Okumoto and Fathima Azmiya Badurdeen – TRANSCEND Media Service

16 May 2024 – Over the years and through varied experiences as peace researchers and practitioners, we have developed an interest in understanding what values (as well as ethics and morals) motivate us in our work and how these values can lead to or sabotage trust.

For example, what are our values, and how and why do we act them? What is repeatedly certain is the concept of values in peace studies, peacebuilding, and peace-related literature, which is commonly acknowledged as fundamental to peacebuilding work, is not considered. There is limited opportunity to reflect on and explore our values and, more importantly, why we have these values. Yet it has become clear that values grow as you go, or as McGilchrist (2021) states, “values are not invented but discovered and disclosed, and it takes life to discover and disclose them: that they declare themselves in and through the responses of living beings to the world and the world’s response to them.” (p. 1145). Values, therefore, emerge from people’s experiences in life and are sometimes painful to explore.

Although we acknowledge our understanding that values emerge from experiences codes of ethics, practices, and frameworks that reflect our professional associations and disciplines commonly focus on institutional values rather than individual values and experiences. These commonly expound four core and universal values of fairness, respect, care and honesty (Schroeder et al. 2019) that we are told should guide our work and interactions with others. Once internalised and accepted by an institution, these values become institutionalised values. They inform our approaches, ethical decisions, and actions, such as procedural and compliance-based ethics within our institutions. We are led to believe that these institutionalised values and ethical approaches nurture and enable trust-building in our work contexts, quickly being personified as the values we act and give voice to.

Yet we do not believe that it is solely these institutionalised values that motivate our work and build what we are told is meaningful trust when we often wrestle with giving voice to our values within an institutionalised context and are seen as an extension of the institution, which is not always welcomed. We also remain unconvinced that this captures and reflects the values, morals and ethics which motivate us in our work. Here, at the crux of this problem, we asked the following question: what are the unspoken values and assumptions constitute peace-related work? We have had the opportunity to explore this question and many others over the past two years through our UK Research and Innovation/Arts and Humanities-funded Values, Ethics and Trust in Peacebuilding Network to delve deeper into the philosophical and intimate interplay between our work, our values and building trust.

We approached our exploration through a series of workshops to reflect deeply, including at the subconscious level, to questions of our values, ethics, and trust from different peace-related angles. The workshops occurred in the United Kingdom, Kenya, Mindanao, and the Philippines. They involved creating a safe space, intention, fine art, poetry, and the Giving Voice to Values business management approach, cutting across disciplinary boundaries. Our approach was to engage with peace-related researchers (broadly defined), peace practitioners and those involved in the research process as research participants. These workshops uncovered groundbreaking points that converged, suggesting theoretical virtues of simplicity and unifying power (Lewis 1973).

Our workshops showed that ethics, mainly procedural and compliance-based, are often the focus of peace-related research and practice, with less attention placed on (applied) philosophy or discussions around values, morals and trust. This is evident in the usage of terminology. For example, various disciplines often interchange values and morals with principles (Fassim 2012). There is also an assumption that everyone operates with the same fundamental values (Choi-Fitzpatrick et al., 2022). Yet these fundamental values remain undefined, or the discussion revolves around the combination of morals and values that come together as moral values (Neufeldt 2022). Confirming that values are not questioned and highlighting the need to dig deeper and understand our values is one element of these workshops where we set the foundations to reflect on our values, where they came from and how we act on them.

Confusion around values highlights the need for philosophical conversations in our peace-related work. Having such conversations allows for a much-needed shift of focus towards the more intimate and inner connection with the self and the world, allowing for unpacking our values, morals and ethics, which influence our work. It is necessary to centre and connect to oneself within the world, as well as one’s peace-related work. We approached this centring through the use of art and fine art, which allowed us to gain a better and broader understanding that values connect to one’s life experiences and environments, meaning that some specific reasons and contexts underpin our values. Our discussion also clarified that ethics are how people act and are connected to our values. Morals are also linked to values and ethics but tend to be influenced by what others or society justifies as morally correct. This can lead to forms of moral harassment or moral superiority becoming dogmatic, which hinders questioning. Trust, therefore, may form when values are understood and shared, and consistency exists between ethics, values and morals.

Common themes of values were identified in the workshops, which cut across all participants. We identified the shared values of respect, love, integrity, truth, belonging, connection, honesty, care and kindness, which, on the surface, resonate with the aforementioned universal values. When digging deeper, it was confirmed that the values identified were more akin to commonly promoted universal values. We reflected further on what it means, for example, when we care. When we explored more, it became evident that many of these values seemed connected to specific experiences or perceptions held by participants. This supports McGilchrist’s (2021) understanding of values being ‘discovered and disclosed’. Yet, it was still challenging to unpack the meaning behind each identified value. Each person has a different way of understanding them and acting on their values simply because these values are connected experiences. So, the same word could mean and be acted on differently.

The workshops also reconfirmed the need to question the commonly promoted Westernised approach to programming and research, encouraged through various international, regional and national research funding and peace-related programming schemes. Such approaches, including the funding application process, institutional ethics policies and processes, and how knowledge is generated and communicated to the broader public, were commonly seen to create barriers to more natural and human interactions. These barriers, often characterised by rigid rules and procedures, support a more ‘boxed’ approach to human interactions. This approach can create distance rather than bring people together, providing more of an illustration of values conflicting with actions.

These workshops have only laid the foundations for our individual and intimate explorations of the values, morals, ethics and trust we act upon in our peace-related work. But what we have found provides a starting point to delve further. We now understand that our values are deeply rooted in and profoundly shaped by personal experiences, including context, history, ideology, religion and culture. These experiences can be positive and negative, but to understand our values, we need a profound understanding and experience of the nature of the negative, of the brokenness and the essence of deprivation which exists within the world.

On a surface level, our values may resemble the universal values touted by our institutions. However, these values must be questioned, especially concerning their actioning, as they are intimately connected to our inner being and become embodied when enacted. We need conviction and belief to act, but our values could conflict with our actions when these do not exist. This could be seen in the implementation of institutional ethics processes where a clash may exist between institutional and personal values creating the potential for uncomfortableness and a need to justify actions, resulting in broken trust. This uncomfortableness exists as there is a conflict between values, action and intuition – balance does not exist. Our intuition provides balance, a centre, and regulation as to whether our values and actions are aligned and right or wrong. It is also essential to continue the self-reflective process, constantly examining the connections between our values and actions at macro, micro, and other levels to see where alignment and uncomfortableness exist. When we follow our conscience, beliefs, and intuition, our values align with our actions on all levels. This is easily said but not easily done. It is continuous and requires work and support from others around but provides us with the thread that connects us to our centre.


Choi-Fitzpatrick, A., Irvin-Erickson, D. and Verdeja, E. (2022) Wicked problems: the ethics of action for peace, rights, and justice. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

Fassim, D. (2012). A companion to moral anthropology. Wiley Blackwell: Chichester.

Lewis, D.K. (1973). Counterfactuals. Blackwell: Malden, MA.

McGilchrist, I. (2021). The matter with things: our brains, our delusions and the unmaking of the world. Perepectiva Press: London.

Neufeldt, R. (2022). ‘From righteous to responsive: rethinking the role of moral values in peacebuilding’. In Choi-Fitzpatrick, A., Irvin-Erickson, D. and Verdeja, E. (2022) Wicked problems: the ethics of action for peace, rights, and justice. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

Schroeder, D., Chatfield, K., Singh, M., Chennells, R., Herissone-Kelly, P. 2019. ‘The Four Values Framework: Fairness, Respect, Care and Honesty.’ In: Equitable Research Partnerships. Springer Briefs in Research and Innovation Governance. Springer Cham.


Dr Michaelina Jakala is an Assistant Professor at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, Coventry University. She is also ethnographer with a background in Peace Studies. Her research interests broadly focus on the everyday experiences of peacebuilding and transitional justice with particular interest in justice, reparation, and education amongst marginalised groups. She has experience with participatory research and arts-based methods.

Dr Miho Taka is an Assistant Professor at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, Coventry University. Specialised in the political ecology of conflict, natural resource governance, sustainability, business and human rights and responsible sourcing of minerals. She also works on education for peace and sustainability and engages with wider society.

Prof Kyoko Okumoto is Professor at Osaka Jogakuin University, Japan, a research member of the AHRC-funded Values, Ethics and Trust in Peacebuilding Project, and a facilitator at Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute. She is also a TRANSCEND International member (Regional Coordinator for Northeast Asia), a board member of TRANSCEND Japan, a former President of Peace Studies Association of Japan, and a former chair of Northeast Asia Regional Peacebuilding Institute. Kyoko works in the fields of peace studies, conflict transformation and nonviolent intervention, and particularly focuses on the arts-based approaches to peacework. She teaches and facilitates peace workshops held mainly by civil society groups, and universities/schools. She tries to expand and deepen the network among Northeast Asian CSO/NGO people, and between NE Asia and South East Asia, and also with South Asia.

Dr Fathima Azmiya Badurdeen is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Faculty of Religion, Culture and Society, University of Groningen, Netherlands. She is also a Lecturer at the Department of Social Sciences, Technical University of Mombasa, Kenya. Fathima has worked as a researcher and trainer in the field of preventing and countering violent extremism and peacebuilding. Since 2012, she has worked as a researcher specialising in exploring recruitment dynamics for terrorist networks and countering violent extremism in the East African region. Prior to her work in the East African region, she also worked as a researcher, trainer, and evaluator for conflict transformation and peacebuilding projects in Sri Lanka.

Tags: , ,

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 20 May 2024.

Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: Finding Our Values in Peacebuilding, is included. Thank you.

If you enjoyed this article, please donate to TMS to join the growing list of TMS Supporters.

Share this article:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.

There are no comments so far.

Join the discussion!

We welcome debate and dissent, but personal — ad hominem — attacks (on authors, other users or any individual), abuse and defamatory language will not be tolerated. Nor will we tolerate attempts to deliberately disrupt discussions. We aim to maintain an inviting space to focus on intelligent interactions and debates.

− 3 = 2

Note: we try to save your comment in your browser when there are technical problems. Still, for long comments we recommend that you copy them somewhere else as a backup before you submit them.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.