Blattman, Hartman & Blair (2014)
In weak states, strengthening formal institutions can take decades, 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 of these interventions. We studied the short-term impacts of one such campaign in Liberia, where property disputes are endemic.
Residents in 86 of 346 towns randomly received training on alternative dispute resolution (ADR), which aimed to strengthen existing and longstanding informal dispute resolution methods, such as adjudication by customary leaders, as well as training and encouraging ordinary residents to negotiate their own disputes or mediate those of their neighbors. 15% of adults received the training.
Residents of the 160 other towns did not receive training in ADR, and served as a comparison group to the treatment condition.
1) The education campaign resulted in shorter and less violent land disputes. In treated communities, land disputes were 29% less likely to remain unresolved at the end of the year, property destruction decreased by 32%, and disputants were 10% more satisfied with outcomes. Impacts spilled over to untrained residents. 2) There were statistically significant short- term increases in youth-elder disputes, as well as modest but not statistically significant increases in other nonviolent disputes. 3) We also saw unintended consequences: more extrajudicial punishment and (weakly) more nonviolent disagreements. Results imply that mass education can change high-stakes behaviors, and improving informal bargaining and enforcement behavior can promote order in weak states.