Ex-combatant Reintegration in Liberia

For post-conflict societies, the challenges of reintegrating ex-combatants and war-affected youth are likely to far outlast and outsize the formal demobilization, disarmament and reintegration (DDR) of ex-combatants. These programs, conducted in war’s immediate aftermath, form an important part of a policymaker’s post-conflict toolkit. While ex-combatants receive special policy attention, poor and underemployed men are also widely considered a threat to political stability.

Find a more detailed policy brief here (PDF) and the full paper here.
Context of the Evaluation:

In Liberia, where the bulk of the population is young, poor, and underemployed, many rural youth continue to make their living through unlawful activities, including unlicensed mining, rubber tapping, or logging. Many of them are ex-combatants, and some remain in loose armed group structures, doing the bidding of their wartime commanders. While the security situation has steadily improved since 2003, the government, the UN, and NGOs fear that these youth are a possible source of instability, particularly in hotspot regions where mining, rubber tapping, or logging and the allure of “fast money” attract young men from around the country. These youth may also be recruited into regional conflicts as mercenaries. Agriculture is and will continue to be a major source of employment and income for rural Liberians. The international NGO Landmine Action (LMA, now known as Action on Armed Violence) runs an innovative and intensive agricultural training program, targeting ex-combatants and other high-risk youth in rural hotspots.

Description of the Intervention:

The LMA program is broader and more intensive than most ex-combatant reintegration programs, and is designed to rectify some of the main failings of prior demobilization programs: it is oriented towards agriculture (the largest source of employment in Liberia); it provides both human and physical capital; and it integrates economic with psychosocial assistance. It also targets youth at natural resource hotspots that presented the most immediate security concerns.

LMA took youth selected for the program to residential agricultural training campuses, where they received 3-4 months of coursework and practical training in agriculture, basic literacy and numeracy training, psychosocial counseling; along with meals, clothing, basic medical care, and personal items. After the training, counselors facilitated graduates' re-entry with access to land in any community of their choice.  Graduates received a package of agricultural tools and supplies, valued at approximately US$200. The program's total cost is approximately $1,250 per youth, excluding the cost of constructing the campuses. The program was designed to give youth a sustainable and legal alternative to illegal resource extraction, ease their reintegration into society, reduce the risk of re-recruitment into crime and insurrection in the future, and to improve security in hotspot communities.

LMA recruited twice as many youth as it had space for in its programs, and researchers randomly assigned half of the youth to treatment (receiving the program), and half to a comparison group (not receiving the program). By comparing these two groups 18 months after the program, researchers can see the effect of the intervention on agricultural livelihoods, shifts from illicit to legal employment, poverty, social integration, aggression, and potential for future instability.  Despite massive migration, 93% of the youth were found at the time of the endline survey. The qualitative study included observation and a series of interviews with 50 of the youth.

Results and Policy Lessons:

Engagement in agriculture: More than a year after completion of the program, program participants are at least a quarter more likely than the control group to be engaged in agriculture, and 37% more likely to have sold crops. Interest in and positive attitudes toward farming are also significantly higher among program participants. 

Illicit activities:The program had little impact on rates of participation in illicit activities like mining, but those who participated in the program do spend fewer hours engaged in illicit activities, as agricultural hours seem to substitute somewhat for hours spent in illicit activities.

Income, expenditures, and wealth:  There was a sizable increase in average wealth from the program, especially in household durable assets, but no change in current income (last week and last month), savings or spending for the average program participant. Overall, the evidence suggests that cash cropping provides periodic windfalls from sales, and that these are mainly invested in durable assets (and not necessarily in agricultural inputs or equipment).  Qualitative observations also suggest that access to markets may have been an important constraint on success.

Social engagement, citizenship, and stability:  There were small but positive improvements across most measures of social engagement, citizenship, and stability. While not all of the estimated impacts are large enough to be statistically significant, they nevertheless suggest a small but broad-based reduction in alienation and some gains in stability. The evidence on aggression and crime, however, does not point to a significant reduction in illegal or aggressive behaviors among program participants.

Interest and mobilization into the election violence in Cote d’Ivoire:Conflict broke out in Cote d’Ivoire shortly before the launch of the program evaluation.  Self reported rates of interest in the violence and mobilization were fairly low among the sample population, but they were especially low among program participants – they tended to report a third less interest in or links to recruiters and recruitment activities. Given the difficulty of shifting such behaviors, these impacts of the program are regarded as extremely promising.

More information can be found in the policy brief here (PDF) and full paper here.

Girl Empowerment in Rural Liberia

Addressing high rates of gender-based violence experienced by girls is a policy goal in many developing countries, in particular in post-conflict settings such as Liberia where evidence suggests women commonly experience physical and/or sexual violence. This study in Nimba County, Liberia will evaluate the impact of a girls’ empowerment program for young adolescent girls and their caregivers on sexual violence and reproductive health outcomes.

Policy Issue:

Increasing the number of girls who complete secondary school, reducing early motherhood, and addressing sexual violence are common policy goals across many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. In the post-conflict setting of Liberia, where girls and women commonly experience physical and/or sexual violence,1 improving the social assets and capacities of adolescent girls, including improving the protective environment around them, is a key priority. Providing young adolescent girls support through mentorship, asset building, and life skills training, in combination with protective parenting training for caregivers, has the potential to increase knowledge, reduce rates of sexual violence, decrease the incidence of early motherhood, and improve overall well-being as adolescent girls transition to adulthood. This research contributes evidence on this topic.

Context of the Evaluation:

Liberia, which emerged out of a 14-year long civil war in 2003, has made progress in women’s empowerment in the political sphere, yet gender-based violence and high adolescent fertility rates remain a problem.2

The International Rescue Committee (IRC), an international NGO and the partner in this study, conducts an innovative program for adolescent girls ages 13-14 called Girl Empower that includes mentorship, asset building, and protective parenting training with caregivers. The IRC is interested in learning the program’s impact on participants, in particular the impact of the program on rates of sexual violence among adolescent girls.

Results and Policy Lessons:

This randomized evaluation will measure the impact of the Girl Empower program on sexual violence among girls and changes in parental attitudes and behaviors.

Girls participating in the 12-month program will meet weekly in groups with their mentors in a girl-only safe space in their communities. The curriculum is designed to be contextually relevant and aims to help the girls build relationships with friends and their mentors. The program also aims to provide a space for girls to discuss issues that are of most concern to them, including life skills, the changes of puberty, their aspirations, and any violence they have experienced. Meanwhile, caregivers meet in groups once a month to discuss related topics such as adolescence, positive parenting, supporting their daughters' education, as well as savings and investing in their daughters’ futures.

The study’s eligibility criteria include all girls between 13-14 years of age regardless of school enrollment or other characteristics and their main caregivers in 100 clustered communities (approximately 2,000 girls) in Nimba County. The 100 communities will be randomly assigned to one of three groups:

1)    Girl Empower only – Girls in these communities will be invited to participate in the full program, which as described above includes an ongoing relationship with a mentor who leads the girls’ groups, relationship,  asset building, and monthly discussion groups for caregivers. 

2)    Girl Empower with a cash incentive for attendance - Girls in these communities will be invited to participate in the full program and caregivers will also receive a small cash incentive based on the girl’s regular attendance, designed to increase retention in the program.

3)    Comparison communities– No program. 

IPA will interview girls and their primary caregivers before the program begins when girls are 13-14 years of age, and two years later when girls are 15-16 years of age. During the interviews, IPA will collect self-reported data from the girls on school attendance; social capital and social networks; quality of care and communication with caregivers; life skills, financial literacy, self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-efficacy; sexual and reproductive health knowledge; and sexual experiences, including pregnancy and sexual violence and exploitation. IPA will interview caregivers about their gender attitudes and norms, their aspirations for girls, and communication with girls around sexual relationships and sexual violence.

Researchers will evaluate if the program imparts the desired knowledge and skills on participants, how it affects rates of sexual violence, and whether the cash incentive affects these outcomes.

Results and Policy Lessons:

Results forthcoming.

[1]Callands, Tamora A., Heather L. Sipsma, Theresa S. Betancourt, and Nathan B. Hansen. "Experiences and acceptance of intimate partner violence: Associations with STI symptoms and ability to negotiate sexual safety among young Liberian women." Culture, health & sexuality 15, no. 6 (2013): 680.

[2]Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, Republic of Liberia. “National Sexual and Reproductive Health Policy,” February 2010. Accessed April 6, 2015 at: http://liberiamohsw.org/Policies%20&%20Plans/National%20Sexual%20&%20Reproductive%20Health%20Policy.pdf

The Impact of Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Cash Transfers on High-Risk Young Men in Liberia

In many fragile states, poor young men with limited economic opportunities drive high rates of crime and violence, and are easily mobilized into destructive activities such as rioting and rebellion. A large body of largely observational evidence in psychology research in the United States demonstrates that cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), a therapeutic approach to improving a wide range of harmful beliefs and behaviors, is an effective way to reduce violence and criminality among children and adolescents. To understand the potential effectiveness of CBT among adults in fragile states, researchers evaluated the impact of a short-term CBT program and the distribution of unconditional cash transfers on the behavior of high-risk young men in Liberia. Results demonstrate that CBT reduced criminal behavior and improved self-control and self-image among participants; these results were greater for participants who received both CBT and cash grants, but cash grants alone had no impact.

Find a four-page policy brief here, and the full paper here.

Policy Issue:

In many fragile states, poor young men with limited economic opportunities drive high rates of crime and violence, and are easily mobilized into destructive activities such as rioting and rebellion. For weak governments, these young men often pose one of the greatest risks to stability and economic growth. A large body of largely observational psychology research and experience in the United States suggests that cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), a therapeutic approach to improving a wide range of harmful beliefs and behaviors, is likely an effective way to reduce violence and criminality among children and adolescents. However, less evidence exists on the impacts of CBT on adults, or in other country contexts. To understand the potential effectiveness of CBT among adults in fragile states, researchers evaluated the impact of a short-term CBT program and the distribution of unconditional cash transfers on the behavior of high-risk young men in Liberia.

Context of the Evaluation:

In the past three decades, Liberia suffered two civil wars that killed ten percent of the population, displaced a majority, and recruited tens of thousands of people into combat. Though the last armed conflict ended in 2003, the country still remains very poor; most young men have limited employment, and so some turn to criminal activity. The men who were targeted and participated in this study were considered at highest risk for this type of criminal or violent behavior. The sample enrolled in the CBT program had an average of eight years of schooling and earned about US$68 in the past month working 46 hours per week (mainly in low skilled labor and illicit work). Thirty-eight percent were former members of an armed group, and 24 percent were homeless.

Details of the Intervention: 

Researchers conducted a randomized evaluation to measure the impact of the Sustainable Transformation of Youth in Liberia program (STYL), a short-term CBT program targeting high-risk young men to reduce destructive behaviors, such as criminality and substance abuse. STYL was developed organically over the past ten years by the Network for Empowerment and Progressive Initiatives, a local organization led by reformed combatants and other formerly high risk youth. Among a random sample of 999 young men living in Monrovia, half were randomly enrolled in STYL.

The eight-week STYL program combined frequent group therapy sessions with one-on-one counseling, conducted by program facilitators who were graduates of a previous STYL program. Through a combination of discussion, reflection, and practical homework assignments, the program aimed to improve participants’ self-image and self-control. Participants were given lunch during session days to compensate for time spent in session.

Researchers also examined the impact of unconditional cash transfers on the young men’s behaviors and beliefs. Shortly after the therapy program ended, another random half of the 999 young men received one-time unconditional cash grants of US$200. Thus, one group of the men received cash, a second group received therapy, a third group received both cash and therapy, and a fourth comparison group received nothing.

To measure both short- and longer-term impacts on participants’ beliefs, behaviors, and economic outcomes, researchers conducted follow-up surveys two and five weeks, and twelve and thirteen months after the cash grants were distributed. Since most data were self-reported, they validated the behavior of a subsample with intensive qualitative observation.

Results and Policy Lessons:

STYL participation had large and significant impacts on participants’ behaviors and beliefs, both in the short and long term. This effect was even greater for participants who received both the therapy and the cash grant. The cash grant alone had no behavioral effect on participants. Neither the therapy nor the cash grant impacted long-term economic outcomes.

Behaviors and beliefs

Receiving therapy with or without the cash reduced the likelihood of aggressive and criminal behavior among participants. Those who received therapy were 8.6 percentage points (55 percent) less likely to carry a weapon and 8.0 percentage points (47 percent) less likely to sell drugs in the short term, relative to the comparison group. These reductions persisted over the long term, and were even greater for individuals who received both the cash and therapy. In the long term, those who received both therapy and cash reported conducting 0.72  (38 percent) fewer thefts in the past two weeks.

Receiving therapy with or without the cash also improved some measures of self-control and self-image. On an index assessing impulsive behavior, therapy recipients reported a long-term reduction in impulsivity of 0.17 standard deviations and those who received therapy and cash reported a reduction of 0.21 standard deviations. Those who received both therapy and cash also reported a long-run improvement on an index measuring self-esteem of 0.19 standard deviations. These are large changes by the standards of most therapeutic interventions.

Economic outcomes

Receiving therapy had no impact on the usage of the cash grant. Regardless of receiving therapy, cash recipients reported using roughly a quarter of the grant on consumption and rent, a quarter on business investments, and about one-fifth on savings and debt payments. Only 4 percent of the grant was allocated to drugs, alcohol, and other temptation goods.

The cash grants increased recipients’ short-term incomes and business investments, relative to those who did not receive cash grants, but these effects did not persist into the long run. In the short term, cash recipients invested approximately US$57 more on average in their businesses, and weekly business profits increased by US$4.40, or 30 percent. Interviews with participants suggested that at least part of the reason they were not able to sustain these profits in the long run was due to insecure property rights. At each survey round, about 70 percent of the men reported a robbery or stolen belongings in the past month.

These results demonstrate that cognitive behavior therapy, combined with unconditional cash transfers, can be an effective method of reducing criminality, violence, and drug use. The program was fairly low cost, at US$530 per participant, suggesting that this program could be implemented on a larger scale.

Media coverage of this project:

Chris Blattman writes on The Washington Post Monkey Cage Blog.

Chris Blattman Talks with NPR's Planet Money team here.

Chris Blattman and Paul Niehaus in Foreign Affairs here.

Jason Margolis interviews ex-combatants and researchers Tricia Gonwa and Chris Blattman.

The Impacts of Psychosocial Support and Cash for Work on Vulnerable Youth in Liberia

To foster economic productivity and stability in post-conflict countries, many development organizations have created economic programs and psychosocial programs for youth. Yet little evidence exists on ways to increase economic opportunities for young people and reduce their risk of participating in violence and risky behaviors. In this study, researchers evaluate the impact of both a cash-for-work program and a psychosocial support program for young people in urban Liberia. This research will contribute evidence on how to best enable highly vulnerable youth in post-conflict settings to pursue productive opportunities.

Policy Issue:

Youth development programs are widely viewed as a critical tool for preventing the re-escalation of violence in post-conflict countries. Ninety percent of violent onsets occur in countries with a previous conflict,1 and when conflicts end, young people have the potential to contribute to future development, but they may also be a force of instability in their societies.2 In situations of armed conflict, youth are more likely to be recruited into fighting forces, become targets for violence, be forced to generate a livelihood for themselves and others, and miss out on an education.3 Many organizations therefore identify youth development as an urgent priority for building peace and spurring economic development, and investment in such programs has risen substantially in recent years.4  Yet little evidence exists regarding the impact of these programs, and which interventions are most effective in increasing economic opportunities for youth or reducing their risk of participating in violence and risky behaviors. This study will contribute evidence to help fill this gap.

Context of the Evaluation:

Liberia emerged out of a 14-year long civil war in 2003, and the security situation remains fragile and economic development has been slow.5 In Liberia, where people between the ages of 15 and 35 years constitute over 60 per cent of the total population,6 the government has identified youth unemployment as a major challenge.7

Mercy Corps, a global aid agency, is implementing a three-year program in Liberia called Promoting Sustainable Partnerships for Economic Transformation, or PROSPECTS. The program combines life skills training and workforce development via apprenticeships, technical training, financial education and mentoring, and aims to help participants find gainful employment while also developing positive social ties with their communities. Mercy Corps has worked in Liberia since 2003.

PROSPECTS includes a Cash for Work (CFW) program that centers on paying youth to collect recyclables in their communities and a Sports for Change (SFC) program that combines sports with life skills sessions for groups of youth. These interventions are designed with the aim of preparing highly vulnerable youth in Monrovia, Liberia for the employment market by developing self-confidence and resilience.

Details of the Intervention:

This study tests the impacts of the Cash for Work and Sports for Change programs, and any synergistic effects of both programs, on risky and violent behaviors and labor outcomes of vulnerable youth. Researchers are carrying out the randomized evaluation with 3,000 out-of school youth, ages 16 to 25, in urban Monrovia.

Through a public registration and lottery, participants were randomly assigned to a group of peers. There were a total of four groups, which serve to compare different programmatic options:

  • Cash for Work program only
  • Sports for Change program only
  • Both Cash for Work and Sports for Change
  • No program

Both programs will run for approximately three months with two sessions typically held per week. Researchers will measure the different programs, and any synergistic effects of the two, on enabling vulnerable Liberian youth to become economically productive adults, and resist risky behaviors over a one-year period. Additionally, researchers will evaluate the cost-effectiveness of the programs, both together and separately.

Data will be collected on the participants’ stress levels (measured using biometric data), risk preferences, labor outcomes, aggression, and self-reported risky behaviors. Social network mapping – how youth interact with one another – will also be used to provide a rich perspective of linkages and ties of Liberian youth within and outside of their traditional communities.


The Sisters of Success Mentoring and Girls’ Groups in Liberia

As girls pass through adolescence, a number of factors influence whether they complete secondary school, avoid teenage pregnancy, and develop the life skills, attitudes, behaviors and relationships that will set them on a path to a healthy and productive adulthood. This evaluation investigates whether being part of a mentorship and life skills program, “Sisters of Success,” during early adolescence improves outcomes for girls in Liberia’s capital city, Monrovia.

Policy Issue:

Adolescent fertility rates in Sub-Saharan Africa are substantially higher than other regions of the world, with 115 births per 1,000, compared to 72 births per 1,000 in Latin America and just 19 births per 1,000 in Europe.[1] The gender gap in education is also significant, with West and Central Africa having the largest gender gap in education of all regions in the world.[2] Increasing the number of girls who complete secondary school, and reducing early motherhood, are common policy goals across many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. This evaluation will contribute evidence to policymakers on effective programming to reduce school drop-out and teen pregnancy. Secondly, Liberian policymakers, and NGOs working with Liberia, have noted that life skills are fundamental to individuals’ labor market success, but there is little evidence on the impact of life skills training, or the impact of enhanced life skills on real world outcomes. One factor behind this evidence gap is that life skills training is typically delivered together with vocational training, credit, or even cash transfers, thus making it impossible to isolate the impact of the life skills training itself. This evaluation will help fill this evidence gap.

Context of the Evaluation:

In Liberia, the adolescent fertility rate is 117 births per 1,000 girls, ages 15-19.[3] Meanwhile, within Liberia, the gender gap in school attendance is high. Only 60 percent of girls complete primary school in Liberia, compared to 71 percent of boys, and 19 percent of men have completedsecondary school or higher, but only 8 percent of women have accomplished the same.[4]

The Sisters of Success (SOS) programis taking place in an urban area of 1.1 million people. The SOS program’s goals are for girls to adopt healthy behaviors, build confidence and self-esteem; learn and practice their rights; begin to develop savings and financial literacy habits; increase their community participation and involvement; and help them work towards their own personal development goals, among others. SOS is coordinated by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), in partnership with two local organizations, EDUCARE, the Planned Parenthood Association of Liberia (PPAL), and volunteer mentors, drawn from the same communities as the girls they mentor.

Details of the Intervention:

Researchers hope to find out whether the Sister of Success mentoring program improves specific outcomes for adolescent girls, including their likelihood of staying in school or returning to school, and their likelihood of engaging in risky sexual behavior and becoming pregnant as minors. The study will also deliver evidence on the characteristics of girls for whom the program is more or less effective.      

Sisters of Success will recruit and match girls ages 12-15 with mentors. Each mentor will be randomly matched with ten mentees. Approximately 2,880 girls will participate in the randomized evaluation, with half becoming mentees and half serving as a comparison group.

SOS mentors and mentees meet in “sisterhood sessions,” comprised of two mentors and 20 mentees, which meet twice a month over the course of 15 months. The program also includes extracurricular activities in which larger groups of mentors and mentees do activities together. SOS mentors, who are unpaid, are intended to serve as trusted individuals, friends, advisors, coaches, guides, teachers, and role models for the mentees.

Researchers will collect data on a wide range of topics, such as who and what influences girls to leave school; the social and economic factors that influence when girls first have sex and birth their first child, the number and type of partners girls choose, and their use of contraception. The study will also measure the impact of the SOS program on girls labor market activities and earnings. In addition, researchers will evaluate the relative cost-effectiveness of the SOS program as compared to other policy options. Finally, if the program is effective, this study will pinpoint the key mechanisms that make an impact on girls’ outcomes.

Results and Policy Lessons:

Results forthcoming.


[1] Population Reference Bureau. “Trends in Adolescent Fertility A Mixed Picture.” http://www.prb.org/Publications/Articles/2013/adolescent-fertility.aspx

[2] http://www.ungei.org/gap/reportWafrica.html

[3] World Bank. Adolescent Fertility Rate. Available at:  http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.ADO.TFRT

[4] UN Development Group. “Fact Sheet: Empowering Women in Liberia.” Available at: http://www.undg.org/docs/11143/genderemail.pdf

Predicting Local Violence in Liberia

Many post-conflict countries suffer from high rates of crime, violence, and unrest. Early warning systems, if viable, would help police and peacekeepers anticipate violence before it happens. But is it possible to predict where violence will occur? In response to this question, researchers built a statistical model based on data IPA gathered over four years in the most conflict-prone areas of Liberia. The model correctly predicted 88 percent of violence two years into the future, albeit at the expense of many incorrect predictions that violence would occur.  The study also found that of 56 potential risk factors, only a handful consistently predicted violence over time—especially ethnic diversity and polarization. The study should be replicated to determine whether these results generalize beyond these communities and time periods.

Policy Issue:

Weak and war-torn states are especially vulnerable to violence and political instability. Fragile governments typically fall short in delivering services to citizens, in controlling corruption, and in holding law-breakers accountable, and many punishments for wrong-doing occur outside the law.1  In post-conflict settings, governments often focus their efforts and resources on communities that are perceived to be at high risk of violence based on their past history. In some settings this may be a sensible rule of thumb. However, is prior violence the best predictor of future violence? What risk factors, if any, predict future violence? Answering these questions could help in the development of early warning systems that identify hot spots and anticipate violence before it occurs. Such systems could help police and peacekeepers allocate scarce resources to the places that need them most.

Context of the Evaluation:

In 2014, Liberia celebrated over a decade of peace after 14 years of civil war. Yet incidents of local violence continue to threaten life and property, and even apparently small-scale disputes easily spiral out of control. While violence has decreased steadily since 2008, the decline has slowed over the last two years, and the prevalence of violence remains moderate to high. Seventeen percent of the communities in this study suffered at least one destabilizing incident of violence in 2012.

Details of the Intervention:

Researchers tested the feasibility of an early warning system for predicting violence in Liberia using data collected in three waves (2008, 2010 and 2012) from 242 Liberian towns and villages in three conflict-prone counties: Lofa, Nimba and Grand Gedeh. The researchers, from Columbia University and Yale University, focused on the most destabilizing forms of local violence:2 violent strikes and protests, violent clashes between ethnic groups, murders, rapes, fights or assaults involving weapons, and extrajudicial punishments.  

In each survey year, IPA interviewed an average of 20 randomly selected residents per community and four non-randomly selected local leaders—typically a town chief, youth leader, minority group leader, and women’s group leader. IPA collected data on seven types of violence and 56 potential risk factors, including demographics, availability of social services, presence of natural resources, exposure to wartime violence, and incidence of adverse economic shocks, such as droughts and floods.

Researchers used the first two waves of survey data, from 2008 and 2010, and a variety of different statistical techniques to build models for predicting violence. They then used the models to generate predictions for where violence was most likely to occur two years later, in 2012. Then, in 2012, IPA collected data from the same 242 communities to see where violence had actually occurred, and researchers compared the models’ predictions to reality.

The models were intentially designed to overpredict violence, the reason being that if a model predicted violence would occur somewhere and it didn’t, the cost could be wasted resources (e.g. from pre-emptively sending police to an area). Whereas, if a model predicted violence would not occur and it did, the consequence could be loss of life, destruction of property and persistent tensions between groups. To manage this trade-off, the researchers’ goal was to maximize correct predictions of violence (“true positives”), while maintaining an accuracy rate of at least 50 percent.

Results and Policy Lessons:

The best statistical model correctly predicted 88 percent of violence two years into the future, though this performance came at a high price in terms of over-predictions. The model predicted violence four times more often than actual incidents occurredResearchers believe that with further research this model or a similar one may be improved, generating fewer “false positives” while still correctly predicting most actual incidents of violence.

The model also found five risk factors out of 56 that reliably predicted violence:

1)    Power-sharing, measured by an indicator for whether or not minority tribes and religions are represented in local leadership

2)    Town population

3)    Ethnic polarization, measured as the proportion of residents who describe other ethnic groups as “violent”

4)    Ethnic diversity, measured as the proportion of residents who belong to the majority ethnic group in town

5)    Collective action, measured as the proportion of residents who report contributing money or labor to public facilities

Violence was more likely to occur in communities that were larger, more diverse and more polarized. More surprisingly to researchers, violence was also more likely where multiple ethnic groups and religions were represented in local leadership (i.e. power-sharing). In fact, local-level power sharing was the single best predictor of violence in the best model. However, it is important to note this finding is a correlation,not evidence that power-sharing causes conflict. (One should consider that power-sharing is sometimes the outcome of negotiations following conflict, for example.) Investigating the roots of this correlation should be a priority for future research.

While it is unclear whether these models would perform well in other time periods or settings,the results suggest that relatively simple statistical models to predict violence may indeed be feasible. Peacebuilding researchers and practitioners should replicate similar exercises to identify which risk factors, if any, reliably predict violence across different time periods and settings. Replication will help develop fast, effective, and low-cost early warning systems for the future.


[2] Researchers identified the most destabilizing forms of local violence through a combination of formal qualitative research (e.g., interviews with local leaders) and informal conversations with peacebuilding actors.


Improving SME Market Access via Local Content Marketplace Services in Africa

Governments, multilateral agencies, and corporations, have touted local content policy (the requirement for multinational organizations to develop local supply chains and source in-country) as a means for fostering the growth of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). However, evidence for the positive linkage effects of local procurement remains mixed. This pilot – originated as a result of conversations between the principal investigator and the partner organization at the first SME Initiative working group – will evaluate via a quasi-experimental study the impact of the Building Markets' business facilitation services in Liberia. Findings will assess the viability of the design, will set the stage for future RCT and quasi-experimental studies, will improve understanding of the impact of local sourcing on SMEs, and will contribute to knowledge on the role of market access on SME growth.

Matthew Bird

Peace Education in Rural Liberia

For new democracies and societies emerging from conflict, encouraging tolerance and dialogue, strengthening non-violent conflict resolution systems, and increasing understanding of human rights are key priorities. Governments and NGOs commonly try to change the political culture, civic values, and practices of conflict resolution at the local level through widespread dialogue, education, and information campaigns.  But do these dialogue and education programs actually work as intended? Do they change norms and behaviors, and if so, how? How are new patterns of conflict resolution formed?  And how do they contribute to national reconciliation? How do new state structures integrate with pre-existing local bodies to jointly support security goals and human rights, especially where traditional structures are in conflict with the later? In short, what programs are most useful in helping post-conflict countries achieve lasting peace?

Find a more in-depth policy report here.

Context of the Evaluation:

More than five years after the end of Liberia’s fourteen year civil war, underlying tensions between tribes, over land, and between youth and elders continue to pose threats to a fragile peace. The UN’s Peacebuilding Commission and the Government of Liberia are working together to promote non-violent dispute resolution and inter-group reconciliation, but how best to do this is unknown. This study was jointly designed by the UN, the government, and the research team to assess whether civic education and conflict resolution programs can contribute to this broader peacebuilding agenda.

Description of the Intervention and Evaluation:

Target communities for the program were identified within Liberia’s three most conflict-prone counties: Grand Geddeh, Lofa, and Nimba. The researchers randomly assigned half to receive the program as the “treatment” group, and half to not receive the program as a “control” group. The program took place in 67 villages and town quarters. The program mobilized and trained community members in order to achieve three main goals: (1) educate people on their rights and to respect the rights of others; (2) encourage community collective action towards shared goals; and (3) foster non-violent dialogue and conflict resolution. The program is notable for its intensity and reach: in each community, roughly 10% of adults participated in an eight-day long interactive workshop held over the course of several weeks. Workshops had between 20 to 30 participants, both men and women, were led by a professional facilitator, and were conducted in local dialects. Multiple workshops were held in most communities to reach the 10% coverage target.

Pre-program baseline data was collected in 2009, and the endline took place between 1 and 22 months after the program. Data came from more than 5,000 individuals with three main surveys. In each community, the team interviewed: 20 randomly-selected “community members”, 4 “community leaders”, and 3 people identified by local chiefs as potential trainees, including a “troublesome” person. The study measures the impact of attending the program on potential trainees, random community members, and community leaders, and the impact on the community of having the program take place in their community. An in-depth qualitative study in 14  of the communities was conducted alongside the randomized evaluation to determine the mechanisms of impact. The study focuses on four major outcome classes: community and political participation; attitudes to rights; civic knowledge, attitudes and beliefs; and the prevalence and resolution of conflict.

Results and Policy Lessons:

Community and political participationCommunity participation was measured through contributions to public goods and community projects, membership in groups (from farming to sports), membership in a peace group, and leadership in groups.  Across all measures, the only treatment effect was on membership in peace groups. On political participation, the only statistically significant treatment effect was seen on an index measuring whether potential trainees feel free to speak their minds to “big people” in the community and whether they feel community members have the right to speak out to elders: Those trained are 4% more likely to feel empowered to speak freely. This effect is concentrated among the “troublesome” individuals, who see a larger increase of about 8%.

Attitudes on human rights: Across multiple measures, nearly all the treatment effects are positive, indicating that respondents in trained communities generally report more progressive beliefs. For community members, however, these impacts are fairly close to zero. The impacts on trainees and leaders are modest in size – often in the range of 1 to 10% —and seldom statistically significant at conventional levels.

Civic attitudes and knowledge: The civic education component provided information on citizenship, civic rights and responsibilities and Liberia’s political structure. At endline, amongst potential trainees in the control group, only about 12% correctly understood the statutory requirements for citizenship. This understanding nearly doubled among treated trainees. Little change was seen in political knowledge, and the program also appears to have little to no impact on perceptions of equity in community governance as well as on perceptions towards the national government.

Prevalence and Resolution of Conflict: The most striking program impacts were on conflict and its resolution. In treatment communities (i.e. those that received the program), the evaluation found sizeable increases in non-violent inter-personal and inter-group disputes; suggestive evidence of a decrease in violent disputes; increasing levels of land conflict since the program, though also suggestions of lower rates of violence, and increased rates of dispute resolution and of satisfaction with those resolutions in trained communities. At the community level, leaders reported a 93% increase in conflicts (typically disputes and disagreements) between youth and elders in treated communities.  Treatment communities were also twice as likely to have a peaceful strike or protest, and three times as likely to have a witch killing (though the latter result is not statistically significant).

Violent strikes, protests, and inter-group violence are 59% less likely in treatment communities, however, though this result is not statistically significant (partly because the events are rare, making it difficult to estimate their prevalence precisely with such a small sample of communities).

In addition to the policy report detailing the impact evaluation results, the team has produced a second policy report analyzing patterns of conflict.

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