This Partnership Lesson was developed by Alexander Singal for the Evidence in Governance and Politics (EGAP) series and cross-posted from the EGAP website. This project “Building Trust and Improving Police Effectiveness: A Field Experiment in Urban Liberia” is part of EGAP’s Metaketa IV on community policing.
This research project was conducted by researchers at MIT GOV/LAB in collaboration with Parley Liberia, an NGO in Liberia, and their executive director Greg Kitt. Parley was responsible for facilitating the community policing model being studied with the Liberian National Police (LNP).
The goal of the project was to determine whether implementing a community policing model in Monrovia, a city with rampant crime, would increase community trust in police and citizens’ willingness to report crimes and collaborate with police. Beginning in February 2018 and continuing for a period of 10 months, the precincts that adopted the community policing model held townhall meetings approximately every other month with members of the community and LNP officers. These meetings were supplemented by foot-patrols where police sought to interact with citizens, solicit feedback, and reinforce the information that had been discussed at the townhalls.
The project was undertaken successfully, with the efficacy of the program primarily evaluated by baseline and endline surveys measuring community perception of police and overall safety. Additionally, the research team made use of crime data, such as percentage of crimes that are reported or overall crime rate, looking for any changes that may have occurred. The release of the study’s findings have been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but this page will be updated with a summary of those results as soon as they are available.
Decisions to Partner with the Research Team
Kitt had worked with Ben Morse, a member of the research team, previously on other unrelated projects in Liberia, so when Morse reached out to collaborate on the community policing project, Kitt and his team were enthusiastic about the opportunity. Kitt was confident that his team had the skills needed to successfully undertake the project. And given all that Parley had benefited from previous collaborations with researchers, he saw this as another learning opportunity where they could continue to integrate any new best practices around accurate data collection and survey implementation that Morse would introduce during the project.
Working with the Team
Kitt felt the working relationship was collaborative from the very start, which contributed to the success of the partnership. There was an appropriate distribution of responsibilities and tasks according to each partner’s strengths and abilities, and given that Morse had lived in Liberia previously and had relationships with the LNP, there wasn’t the same learning curve getting the researchers up to speed with the local context the way there might be on other projects.
The major responsibilities for Parley in implementing the project involved organizing the townhall meetings and police patrols in the community policing precincts. Key to this was cultivating and maintaining the relationship with LNP headquarters and the commanders who authorized and approved the coordination between the research team and the police, a process made more difficult by the fact that having those conversations would often require physically locating someone, as communication via email and phone was not always standard.
To ensure the townhall events would be well attended, Kitt’s team also sought to mobilize neighborhood leaders around Monrovia in order to maximize turnout. As described by Kitt, this involves managing local politics and requires “lots of day-to-day diplomacy in making sure everyone is amenable and feels heard.”
The research team and Parley worked closely on key decisions related to the design and implementation of the project. During early planning for the project, the research team considered organizing community policing patrols at night in high crime areas of Monrovia. Morse and Kitt discussed potential risks to staff safety under this scenario, so Morse visited the policing zones at night to assess the situation. With a more complete picture of the context and risks in these areas, the research team instead opted to run daytime patrols.
“A lot of researchers may have really pushed to do it their way, and local implementing partners don’t always have the leverage to say ‘no’,” Kitt said, adding that he was very grateful to be working on a project where the researchers were willing to compromise with the implementing partner.
Dissemination of Findings
While there was originally optimism that the results of the study would be presented at a conference in Addis Ababa, the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the release of the findings. Nonetheless, Morse and Kitt have kept in touch since the completion of the experiment, and Kitt continues his conversations with LNP in anticipation of the results.
“We’re looking forward to this data eventually coming out and being available to the LNP leadership so they can see the costs and benefits of a community policing approach and hopefully develop more interest in that component of their work,” Kitt says, adding that he hopes this will lead to briefings with other LNP partners and security forces so that the findings are disseminated beyond just LNP leadership.
Kitt was overall very pleased with the execution of the project. When pressed for areas of improvement or things he wished had been handled differently, he said he could not think of any. “Things went really smoothly. Honestly, it was overall some of the most positive research collaborations we’ve worked on.”
As to what made the project so successful, Kitt highlighted the fact that Morse had previous experience living and working in Liberia. Nonetheless, he said Morse was clear to defer to Kitt’s team on areas of local expertise, which he felt is a key component of any successful collaboration, since the researchers will necessarily have less context than the implementing partner.
And while project funding does not always allow for repeated site visits from the research team, Kitt felt that Morse’s ability to visit Liberia throughout the project had a positive impact on the end product. “Ben spent a lot of time studying and monitoring. He was very much in the field, very engaged, piloting and testing things. That kind of collaborate and development design of the whole project was very good.”
When asked for any other recommendations he would make to future Metaketa Initiative projects, Kitt was quick to mention the importance of the relationship with the administrative side of the project and was complimentary of the relationship he had with EGAP. “The other sort of big component where there can potentially be challenges is the administration of the project. The whole positive experience of working on this is colored by a very positive experience on the administrative side. The EGAP office and Jaclyn [Leaver, EGAP Director of Research] were super responsive. Very understanding of our needs.”
Finally, Kitt suggested that these kinds of follow up conversations seeking best practices were a great idea going forward. “I think that the very fact that we’re having this conversation right now suggests something special and unique about EGAP’s approach and the thoughtfulness behind it in terms of wanting to understand better how the actual research partnerships work.”
(Photo by Teri Weefur of the National Police Headquarters in Monrovia, Liberia)