Not Just Policy

As soon as I started working at IFES I was tasked with researching when alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is a beneficial tool in election disputes. I am on the ADR team for William & Mary, so it has been really interesting to see how these tools are utilized in different contexts, cultures, and legal systems. 

This research has been really fascinating because instead of looking at the theory behind ADR I have utilized case studies to better understand what happens in practice. ADR is a relatively new approach, particularly when it comes to elections, but it offers the promise of efficiency and nuance. However, while doing research on its increased use in Europe and other parts of the world, it was clear that simply offering ADR as an alternative to court does not guarantee its success. When it comes to using a new tool, the policy is not enough. Particularly when a tool is brought to a new context it is important to consider all factors, including the implementation of the policy.  

While ADR is often beneficial, in some countries it has not had a successful implementation. This has been the case in Nigeria. There the Election Commission tried to utilize ADR, but it remains underutilized. I researched why it did not work in this context. One of the largest reasons for this is that Nigeria’s culture contrasts with some of the general principles of ADR and groups have felt uncomfortable with the open structure. 

As part of this research, I was also able to attend a meeting with IFES Nigeria Country Director where I was able to gain an on-the-ground perspective from someone who had seen the challenges firsthand. He explained that previously there has been an effort to try and push ADR for all election disputes but a more focused approach on pre-election disputes. He also mentioned the cultural challenges that Politicians and Judges have little interest in utilizing this method. This is likely because they are unfamiliar with this approach and ADR has had little financial backing in order to motivate this approach. 

 This discussion identified that in Nigeria more progress may be made if individuals receive more ADR training, and it is viewed as a pathway to potential litigation in court. Training of other court employees, as well as civil society groups, would also allow ADR to be more approachable. 

 It was so valuable to have the opportunity to talk to someone who has personal experience and has had conversations with the individuals that are also being impacted by the policy. He was able to clarify that Nigeria had a long history of using tools similar to ADR but the way that it had been introduced was ostracizing for many. Instead of building off of a previous tool, it had been kept completely separate. This was such a valuable lesson that simply because something has worked before doesn’t mean that the same approach is warranted. 

In order for ADR to deliver it’s essential that individuals understand that the parties get to determine the final solution, they do not have to listen to the mediator for example. Based on this conversation I was able to compile resources to provide tools for those who are going to be leading or participating in the process. This included PowerPoints, sample election dispute situations, as well as online programs that individuals can work through. 

 IFES will often provide training and resources for different countries, whether that is the judicial election commission or civil society organization. One of the appeals of ADR is that it allows the dispute process to be open to everyone as it is often more accessible than the court system. However, in order for groups and individuals to feel like this is an avenue that they can utilize they often need to receive training, as was the case in Nigeria. This is particularly true for the individuals who will be running the mediation or negotiation for example. 

One of my favorite parts of working at IFES is that I have been able to see first-hand the value of research, but also its limitations. I am so grateful to be having conversations with field officers. It has allowed me to develop a more realistic vision of how systems can become more effective. I am looking forward to implementing these lessons in my future projects.