Andy Smith
MIne-action specialist

Comment : Monitoring MRE


Monitoring Mine Risk Education (MRE) effectiveness solely by reference to a reduction in reported civilian accidents is unlikely to be accurate - although most efforts will prove "successful" that way. MRE is not that simple - and people learn from events more readily than from "experts". For example, there are two incidents around a particular town in one month. An emergency MRE response team goes in. There are no more incidents over the following six months. Why? Perhaps because the two incidents themselves taught a powerful lesson? Perhaps because the two incidents involved the only two operational devices in that vicinity? Perhaps because the MRE was effective.

Monitoring of this kind of educational effort should be by assessing how the sharing of "appropriate" knowledge has changed behaviour (among both children and adults). This is complicated by the word "appropriate" - which should take account of the "students' " current knowledge and behaviour. In some areas, people need to know what mines and UXO actually look like: and they are unlikely to learn that from a crude sketch or touchy-feely screen-print made by a local artist who has not seen one either. In Kosovo, many children were taught how common AP mines worked in school - and the children themselves are far more experienced at recognising and even disarming them than the MRE specialist (who often has not really seen one). The content of the instruction MUST be varied appropriately for the audience, but in my experience, it rarely is. One reason for this is that many MRE people do not know much about the mines and devices they are teaching about. I believe that they should - and so that it is not necessarily inappropriate to use ex-soldiers as MRE people. But all MRE instructors need to be taught something about how to communicate and train.... Sadly, this is often not the case whether the trainers are ex-soldiers or civilians.

CIET Canada carried out a structured study of MRE effectiveness in Afghanistan and Angola. It was supposed to be published to 2001, but I do not know whether it was. I saw parts of it during preparation because I wanted to ensure that the Mine Action training materials I was producing took note of any appropriate lessons. I was surprised how honest and "direct" some of the CIET conclusions were (and if it has not been published, that honesty may explain why it was not widely publicised).

For example, the Afghanistan study report found that several mine awareness agencies were teaching technical details of devices - where fuses and pins are, the kind of explosion mines/UXO create, etc. In their operational areas, there was an increase in the number of mine injuries among their target audiences. It was almost certainly inappropriate to show young men how the devices worked but, as always, the report begs other questions. If they had also shown the results of human-interaction with the device (shock-horror photographs of carnage) perhaps the effect would have been different? Giving people half the story can be worse than leaving them in ignorance.

Monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of MRE is as difficult as monitoring any other training in a field environment. A mere accumulation of knowledge is not the main aim. Changing behaviour in real situations is.... This can be achieved when IDPs are pouring into an area simply by telling them the places to avoid (after a protracted conflict they are unlikely to need to be told that mines and UXO are nasty). When IDP movement is over, changing behaviour is a greater challenge. How do you stop a child being naturally curious - in a way that is selective enough not to inhibit the learning that they need to do? Maybe by shock/horror images of the consequences? Maybe not in areas where the kids have seen plenty of that for real?

UNICEF put very few restrictions on the content of MRE (and should put none at all). This is probably because they recognise that the training must be tailored to achieve the effect with the audience - and there are as many ways of doing that as there are audiences. Genuinely effective monitoring may have to be just as varied - but will always be assessing behavioural change.