How to promote order and property rights under weak rule of law?

That’s the title of a revised paper by me, Alexandra Hartman, and Rob Blair. The subtitle is “An experiment in changing dispute resolution behavior through community education”. It replaces an earlier version called “Building institutions at the micro level”.

The abstract:

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 to promote alternative dispute resolution (ADR) are common examples. We study short-term impacts of one campaign in Liberia, where property disputes are endemic. From 246 towns, 86 were randomly provided 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 disagreements (mostly peaceful) and more extrajudicial punishment.

Results imply mass education can change high-stakes behaviors, and improving informal bargaining and enforcement behavior can promote order in weak states.

Full paper here.

The “building institutions” title will be saved, I think, for the longer term study where we look at the evolution of informal institutions of conflict resolution. Later this year, I hope.