I dedicated my Ph.D to study how Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) can do more than only settling individual disputes. One of my claims is that ADR enhances the voice of the parties and educates them about the autonomy to resolve their own conflicts.
ADR can also serve as a tool of empowerment. The literature often refers to the experience of the community ‘courts’ of Gacaca that were established after the genocide in Rwanda. The peace and reconciliation process started by these community venues allowed the victims to express grievances, to confront their perpetrators and to trust again in the justice.
I recently came across another empirical example of the positive spillover effect that ADRs can create. In March 2018, Professors Alexandra Hartman, Robert Blair and Christopher Blattman published their analysis on a UN campaign to promote the use of ADRs in rural communities in Liberia.
The campaign run for twenty one months in 2009 and 2010 and the authors used the ADR training provided under the campaign as a randomised controlled trial. The intention was to measure the effectiveness of the programme and to compare different outcomes experienced by communities that received or not the intervention.
According to the Professors: “The government nominated 246 eligible communities, 85 of which were assigned to and received the ADR training. In these locations, implementers invited a sixth of all adults to participate in eight days of training spread over several months, including extensive coaching and practice in ADR. The implementers trained more than 12,000 people in 2009–10”.
The theory of change behind the UN programme revolved around the positive impact that the ADR education could have to promote a change in skills and social norms in the way to deal with conflict. The expectation was that the specific knowledge gained with the ADR training would ultimately decrease violent behaviour within the treated communities. After two civil wars, the fear was that individual disputes (particularly in relation to land and property of the displaced population) could escalate into a widespread conflict in the country.
Two different timeframes were assessed: one year after the first community received the ADR training (this was discussed in a previous article by the Professors) and three years after the first intervention (the 2018 article).
The main conclusion of the recent study relates to the long-term reduction in hostility and violence attached to disputes. According to the Professors, three years after the intervention, respondents in treated communities were 28% less likely to report any threats or violence. If a dispute existed, respondents were 41% less likely to report threats, property destruction, or interpersonal violence, and 37% less likely to report property destruction or interpersonal violence. The change was not statistically relevant in the first year of the intervention but accrued over time.
Another relevant conclusion regards the violence associated with disputes. The authors highlighted that the treatment did not cause the number of disputes to decrease over time, but it did provide the parties with knowledge and skills to eliminate conflicts peacefully. As pointed out, after three years communities that received the ADR training had 21% less disputes with property destruction or interpersonal violence.
On the other hand, some of the initial expectations of the Professors were not confirmed. First, they found no evidence that the ADR training impacted positively the amount of investment and the land security on the treated communities.
Further investigating the results, the Professors identified a nuanced variation in the data: villagers with political connections reported better security as a result of the intervention. This suggested to the Professors that the ADR campaign did not change the political status quo – which was in a way not surprising. But the programme may have exacerbated the difference between villagers with and without political connections, making the campaign more successful to the first category. This was a conclusion that Professors took as relevant in designing development and humanitarian programmes in general – “politics shapes distributional outcomes” and “informal institutions could reinforce existing inequalities in power and security”. Additional work was considered necessary to study ways to rebalance political power in order to include more beneficiaries.
Second, violent strikes and protests increased by 912% in the treated group in relation to the non-treated group. Peaceful strikes and protests also increased, but the Professors considered it to be statistically not significant. To explain the results, Professors considered that the ADR training may have induced individuals to be “more proactive in protesting actions they disapproved of—even violently”. The increase in protest is consistent with the voice and empowerment that I referred to in the beginning of this post – although the violent approach may be a result of a post-conflict environment.
In terms of the costs involved, the Professors estimated that the campaign resulted in 1,269 fewer acts of violence at the cost of USD 1.2 million. According to the authors this would correspond to a cost of USD 946 for every act of property destruction or interpersonal violence, which is more than twice Liberia’s income per capita. Professors understood that using technology and electronic means to bring ADR training to a broader audience could be an alternative to make the campaign more cost-effective. This is a conclusion that opens many opportunities to re-design ADR trainings in poor and violent communities.
All in all, the article is another strong evidence of how ADR can create positive externalities that go beyond the resolution of conflicts alone and that ADR can (and should be) built-in in development programmes – also one of my claims in the Ph.D.
The full article can be found here.
Hartman, Alexandra and Blair, Robert and Blattman, Christopher, Engineering Informal Institutions: Long-Run Impacts of Alternative Dispute Resolution on Violence and Property Rights in Liberia (April 2018). NBER Working Paper No. w24482. Available at ,SSRN: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3160567>.