This paper abstract by Christopher Blattman, Alexandra Hartman and Robert Blair, raises some interesting possibilities, as well as being methodologically suggestive.
Dispute resolution institutions help reach agreements and preserve the peace whenever property rights are imperfect. In weak states, strengthening formal institutions can take decades, and so state and aid interventions also try to shape informal practices and norms governing disputes. Their goal is to improve bargaining and commitment, thus limiting disputes and violence. Mass education campaigns that promote alternative dispute resolution (ADR) are common examples. We study short-term impacts of one such campaign in Liberia, where property disputes are endemic. From 246 towns, 86 randomly received training in ADR practices and norms, training 15% of adults. One year later, treated towns have higher resolution of land disputes and lower violence. Impacts spill over to untrained residents. We also see unintended consequences: more extrajudicial punishment and (weakly) more non-violent disagreements. Results imply mass education can change high-stakes behaviors, and improving informal bargaining and enforcement behavior can promote order in weak states.
There was a finding of increased traditional “resolutions” such as witch hunts and trial by ordeal. One would hope that a tweak in the training might minimize or remove this effect. Of course, as with much ADR research, the focus was on the fact of a resolution, rather than its ultimate fairness. It is interesting that were were (weakly) more non-violent disagreements. Maybe disagreements were more acceptable when there are good paths to resolution. Indeed, to quote from the study:
Finally, while we did not collect explicit qualitative data on the unintended consequences we see in the quantitative results, we did observe that the workshop inflamed disputes between youth and elders. Discussions of equal rights in the community gave a space for traditionally low-powered groups, such as youth, to speak up and make complaints about the status quo with support from the workshop facilitators. These opportunities led to passionate and sometimes un- resolved debates about whether new ideas about “human rights” and sharing power were suited to the community.
Those of us who were around in the 60’s may recognize an echo! This study observation might suggest a more transformative long term effect in terms of empowering those who want more fundamental change.
The concept of training a high (15%) of the population is suggestive — in the US we tend to focus on the impact of an institutional innovation, rather than of changing public perceptions of possibilities. And, so course, even in “strong” states, there are significant portions of the population that are reluctant to bring in the forces of law and order.