The People-to-People Reconciliation Model is a tool that models the potential for success of people-to-people reconciliation interventions using game theory. The model focuses on interventions that attempt to influence small collections of individuals — with the expectation that changes among such small groups can spread through populations and create widespread change. By inputting information about the social context of the population and the characteristics of the proposed intervention, users can predict the percentage of people reconciling and how that percentage changes over time. The model was developed in 2022 by USIP in partnership with USAID's Bureau for Conflict Prevention and Stabilization and university scholars.

Reconciliation models can inform both policymakers and peacebuilding practitioners. This particular model is an important tool for transforming expert knowledge regarding the population in a conflict-affected area — as well as the characteristics of a proposed intervention — into actionable predictions that inform intervention design. 

Practitioners can therefore use the model to compare the effectiveness of two proposed interventions, or the effectiveness of one intervention in two contexts. The model is a unique application of systems science to peacebuilding, enabling a better understanding of the complex, dynamic effects of conflict and peacebuilding interventions.

The People-to-People Reconciliation Model Overview

Can small groups of people in conflict-affected communities really move their communities toward reconciliation? And if so, what conditions might help them succeed?

Our People-to-People Reconciliation Model — which can be accessed here — can help explore these hard questions.

Screenshot of the People-to-People Reconciliation Model

For example, if you are planning a peacebuilding activity, the model can give you information about how your work will be affected by the level of conflict or connection in the community you’re partnering with. The model also lets you test different project designs to see which could generate the best outcomes. 

How the Model Works

The model’s simplicity makes it flexible enough to use for a variety of settings and project types, and using it is easy. It’s currently a web app that can be accessed online. After logging in, users will see a list of 10 preset parameters. Users can choose the parameters that most interest them and follow prompts to provide brief information about your project. The model then uses this information — along with a few straightforward assumptions — to create graphs (examples of which can be seen in the section below) and make broad suggestions about how changes in the design of specific peacebuilding activities could change the behavior of small groups of people.

For more information about how the model works, watch this brief explainer video:

What the Model Shows

Each time the model is run, it suggests how chosen parameters might, over time, increase or decrease the number of interactions involving reconciliation in a given community. 

People-2-People Model Figure 1

Above, you’ll see a plot showing the combined results of two model runs that are meant to represent two hypothetical peacebuilding projects that had the same number of participants and roughly the same setting. 

The horizontal axis shows time before and after the interventions. The vertical axis shows the percentage of overall community population reconciling before and after each project. The project denoted by the orange line seems to be more successful than the one denoted by the blue line. 

The blue line shows possible results when a single activity has a deep initial effect on participants’ willingness to consider making peace. However, in this model run, the activity is not supported by additional programs that both reinforce participants’ shift in attitude and help spread this attitude to other people. According to this model run’s parameters, participants’ initial enthusiasm is real but not sustained. 

The orange line, by contrast, shows possible results when a single peacebuilding activity has a more modest impact but is supported by follow-up programs that allow people to practice and talk about what they have learned. In this model run, reconciliation gains are strong and sustained.

The Value of Layering Reconciliation Efforts

Our model recognizes that society is complicated and unpredictable. For example, people may take part in peacebuilding training and feel empowered to resolve the conflicts affecting their community. These individuals may be successful in spreading their excitement to friends and family, leading to a ripple effect that promotes change. 

However, the same training could also be given in another community where similarly inspired participants are criticized for wanting to reconcile a long-running conflict. If the pushback is harsh enough, these participants might decide not to pursue reconciliation after all. 

How can you avoid the latter scenario? The model can help. Our results imply more gains when project parameters show multiple reconciliation efforts under one project umbrella. That’s why, as Figure 1 indicates, a multi-step approach (orange line) shows better outcomes than a single, one-step activity (blue line). 

The model results also imply that it is easier to make progress when project parameters include influential people joining in peacebuilding efforts. If a religious leader, for example, takes part in a peacebuilding workshop, she can share what she experienced with more people than someone with a lower profile. A complementary strategy is to give multiple participants the means to talk about reconciliation, and to do this training in a public space where their work can be easily observed. 

If you design a program that blends these and other mutually reinforcing strategies, the model will show even more reconciliation gains. The trick is to weave these strategies together by using timing and structure that fit the community you are working with. You’re encouraged to try varied combinations of parameter values to gauge how different strategies could work together. One caution: Don’t take any one combination of parameters as a definitive. Instead, try setting parameters with different values and do multiple model runs to see how the outcomes change. Comparing results this way will allow you to find strategies that work best for your project.

The Big Picture

Our team has done approximately one million runs on different hypothetical projects since 2022. When we aggregate data gained from those runs, we see which parameters appear to bring the most value. 

People-2-People Model Figure 2

This figure lists the model’s parameters on the left. Those marked by (C) are parameters related to the context of a project, or as the model calls them, “interventions.” Parameters marked by (I) are parameters describing the project or intervention. On the right, you’ll see the positive impact each parameter has had over more than one million model runs. 

It reveals that the most obvious aspects of peacebuilding are indeed the most important, and activities that have deep effects on participants that spread through social networks do very well. 

Other, less self-evident factors are also crucial:

  • If people in a society are more receptive to social cues in their daily lives, peacebuilding lessons can spread more widely and lock in more gains. 
  • Not every community values these types of social skills. Fortunately, social learning can be encouraged by targeted actions, such as giving such peacebuilding programs a high public profile or providing economic incentives to resolve conflicts. 
  • Encouraging lasting contact among people in conflict also has a long-term effect, since these relationships can become models for others. 

It may indeed be true that a few thoughtful, committed individuals can change their corner of the world. But our data show that to be successful, those people must have neighbors, friends, and even adversaries who are willing to listen and act on what they have heard. For that to happen, successful peacebuilders must identify and carefully leverage each community’s singular and innate capacity for connection. The People-2-People Reconciliation Model offers a tool for finding those points of opportunity, one project at a time. 

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