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?
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.
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.
Community and political participation: Community 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.