Experimentalism in international support to rule of law and justice

Working and discussion papers
February 2018
Pilar Domingo and Deval Desai
Dancing for Peace in Buenaventura, Colombia © European Commission, 2013

In May 2017, ODI and the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) convened a workshop. It aimed to explore to what extent ‘experimental’ approaches feature in international support to rule of law and justice reform, and the risks and merits of such an approach. Experimentalism was taken to refer to approaches that are problem-focused, adaptive and iterative. This paper highlights some implications for policy and practice discussed in the workshop.

In summary, rule of law and justice reform is integral to sustainable development, yet is complex and bound in social norms and political power. International support is becoming more ‘experimental’, but what makes for ‘effective experimentalism’ is under-documented, under-explored and under-systematised. To work in this way, five key capabilities are needed:

  1. Embrace political complexity;
  2. Take advantage of processes of system or norm change;
  3. Take advantage of international normative changes;
  4. Work across siloes; and
  5. Look at how legal problems are framed.

But reformers must continue to ask themselves: What counts as the problem? Who gets to define the problem? What counts as success, and who decides this? And how transparent, professionalised or politicised should experimental approaches be?