Within Zimbabwe, traditional leaders comprising chiefs, headmen, and village heads play an important role in local governance, managing community resource and maintaining stability. Lack of understanding by traditional leaders – and of communities – of their roles and responsibilities vis-à-vis local legislation has created local tensions, lessening these leaders’ perceived impartiality and creating conflict within communities. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) ran a project starting in 2012 called “Supporting Traditional Leaders and Local Structures to Mitigate Community-Level Conflict,” which focused on building positive relationships between village heads and community leaders and promoting good governance.

Participants in the six-day training received instruction on gender, leadership, communication, human rights, mediation techniques, and conflict management. The IRC implemented two versions of the project: One that trained traditional leaders, or village heads; and another that also trained community leaders alongside the village heads. An impact evaluation by the organization Social Impact measured the effect of training on village heads’ ability to govern and peacefully reduce conflict. An accompanying cost effectiveness analysis by the IRC examined the ingredients necessary to run such a project, as well as the cost per person and cost per outcome achieved.

Training only one person per village cost $1,700 on average per participant, but when community leaders accompanied village heads to the training it cost an average of $1,320 per participant. Data on both programmatic and support costs was collected during the first year of project implementation, when some one-time start-up costs, such as curriculum development, were incurred. As such, these numbers represent a high end estimate of the cost per person trained. The fact that training was more cost efficient (i.e. cost less per person) when more people were included does not necessarily mean that it was more cost effective; cost effectiveness depends on whether training more people caused an incremental improvement in the effectiveness of the trainings, beyond training village heads alone.

Although it cost more in total to train community leaders as well as village heads, including a wider group of people was more cost effective because the training impacted governance outcomes only when the wider community was involved. Having community leaders trained alongside village heads facilitated dissemination of information about rule of law to many community members, allowing community leaders to exert ‘horizontal’ pressure on village heads to hold to legal proceedings when needed. The impact evaluation and cost analysis suggest a preference for training community leaders alongside village heads, rather than training village heads alone.

Costs for the training sessions were driven largely by variable costs, such as transportation, meals, and accommodations, which scale directly with the number of people participating. To ensure that participants were capable and motivated to attend trainings, it was necessary to pay per diem allowances and incentives. Attendance at trainings is a key factor in the success of many community-level interventions. To ensure that community leaders participate, training projects often need to budget for incidentals that compensate for the opportunity costs community leaders face when participating in governance interventions.