This paper is part of the Theories in Practice series arising from the collaboration between JSRP and The Asia Foundation. The paper presents a study of one element of The Asia Foundation’s ‘Theory of Change’ for community mediation boards in Sri Lanka: that they can improve social harmony. The paper attempts to address significant gaps in research and analysis regarding the impact of the mediation boards, as well as of the conceptual and practical application of Theories of Change. It draws on analysis of the Sri Lankan context, the history of theories about, and practice of, the mediation boards, and existing and new empirical data.
While this study demonstrates that mediation boards, broadly speaking, are perceived positively by those who use them, it argues that broader claims such as that they improve social harmony are often contextually convenient, derived from donor narratives or current strategic organisational approaches. The main section of this paper reflects on the reasoning and evidence for three hypotheses of what ‘improving social harmony’ can mean: resolving disputes and preventing dispute escalation, improving community relationships and improving inter-ethnic harmony. It identifies reasons to doubt that the largely interpersonal domain of mediation can have broader intra- and inter-group effects, particularly considering the design limitations of the boards and the (at times heavily war-affected) social context in which they operate. However, the mediation boards can play a useful role in resolving disputes and repairing relationships.
The paper concludes that an improved Theory of Change for mediation boards in Sri Lanka will deepen and revise the board’s access to justice premise, which should encourage further analysis of under-researched, yet critical questions of justice and equality.
Valters, C. Community Mediation and Social Harmony in Sri Lanka. Justice and Security Research Programme, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), London, UK (2013) 46 pp. [JSRP Paper 4]