Multi-Stakeholder Dispute Resolution: Building Social Capital Through Access to Justice

The development of systems of multi-stakeholder dispute resolution is increasingly recognized as an objective of good governance by international organizations such as the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).  Such objectives arise out of insights based on the dynamics of social capital that community based initiatives cannot succeed where trust is absent and mechanisms for collective decision making do not exist. Yet localized decision making can take many forms – whether distributional, competitive or collaborative.  A recent article by Shahla Ali, William Davis and Felicia Lee examines, in particular the impact of collaborative systems of decision making on building social capital through access to justice in local communities. It does this through examining participant feedback, meeting minutes, and post-consultation reports of a community multi-stakeholder dialogue process in Cajamarca, Peru. The creation of dispute resolution forums where community members can actively participate in the generation of shared objectives, collect and access information, and take action on issues of collective concern represents an important foundation for the development of social capital.


  1. I had the privilege of living in Alaska for a summer, with my Alaska Native sister and her extended family. In the village, they use “healing circles” to deal with a very difficult circumstance – that is, when members of the community steal or commit other crimes, how is the rest of the community able to live side-by-side with someone who has violated the trust and standards of that place?

    This is a tiny community, with a population of just a few hundred, and it’s on a very remote island, so you are kind of “stuck” with each other, regardless of the health of your interrelationships.

    And the community as a whole would rather not sign off their youth to the mainland justice system – it is felt that offenders will never emerge from that system once they enter it.

    So they have made healing circles, based in part on the concept of consultation, for the community to share its feelings and views about the violation of trust and their hopes for the offender, and for the offender to apologize, talk about his or her struggles, and ask for assistance. There is lots of silence and lots of listening. From what I saw, it enabled the community to rally around and help rehabilitate members who were going astray, and to be able to live harmoniously next to someone who has wronged them. The process is mediated by the elders and does not tend to get off-track or devolve into negativity.

    1. Leili, Thank you very much for this excellent example. There is a lot that mainland justice systems can learn from this approach. I appreciate your sharing it.

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