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Improving Democracy Assistance: Building Knowledge through Evaluations and Research 1 Democracy Assistance and USAID U.S. DEMOCRACY ASSISTANCE: A BRIEF INTRODUCTION The United States has been supporting democracy abroad for many decades. From Woodrow Wilson’s efforts following World War I to the reconstruction of Germany and Japan after World War II, U.S. policymakers have aimed to create a world of democratic nations. During the Cold War and the current war on terrorism, efforts to foster democracy have been inconsistent or have clashed with other strategic goals, but the U.S. commitment to the growth of democracy abroad has been repeatedly expressed. Over the past 25 years, the United States has made assistance for the development of democracy in other nations a key element of its national security policy (see Box 1-1). In recent years democracy assistance has become not merely a goal for diplomacy (although it remains that) but an increasingly frequent practical problem. A host of international and multilateral donor agencies and even military forces (both NATO and U.S.) have taken on the task of helping build democracies in highly challenging environments, including authoritarian and semiauthoritarian states, recently emerging and transitional democracies, and societies scarcely out of, or even in the midst of, violent conflicts (e.g., Ukraine, Bosnia, Egypt, Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, Democratic Republic of the Congo). U.S. efforts to assist the spread of democracy encompass a host of activities: diplomatic pressures, trade sanctions, economic development aid, military and political support for democratic forces, or in some cases (e.g., Zaire, Philippines) withdrawal of support for dictators.
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Improving Democracy Assistance: Building Knowledge through Evaluations and Research BOX 1-1 Examples of U.S. Commitments to Democracy Promotion, 1982-2006 “The objective I propose is quite simple to state: to foster the infrastructure of democracy, the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities, which allows a people to … reconcile their own differences through peaceful means…. It is time that we committed ourselves as a nation—in both the public and private sectors—to assisting democratic development.” —President Ronald Reagan, “Speech at Westminster,” June 8, 1982. Available at: http://www.teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?documentprint=926. “Our interests are best served in a world in which democracy and its ideals are widespread and secure. We seek to … promote the growth of free, democratic political institutions as the surest guarantors of both human rights and economic and social progress.” —National Security Strategy of the United States, August 1991. Available at: http://www.fas.org/man/docs/918015-nss.htm. “The best way to advance America’s interests worldwide is to enlarge the community of democracies and free markets throughout the world.” —President William J. Clinton, “Statement on the National Security Strategy Report,” July 21, 1994. Available at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=50525. “We will … use our foreign aid to promote freedom, … ensuring that nations moving toward democracy are rewarded for the steps they take [and] make freedom and the development of democratic institutions key themes in our bilateral relations.” —National Security Strategy of the United States, September 2002. Available at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/nss.html. “I would define the objective of transformational diplomacy this way: To work with our many partners around the world to build and sustain democratic, well-governed states that will respond to the needs of their people—and conduct themselves responsibly in the international system.” —Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, January 18, 2006. Available at: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2006/59339.htm. Role of the U.S. Agency for International Development The day-to-day tasks of working with groups and individuals on the ground to help build democratic institutions and offer training and support to citizens, officials, and civil society organizations are assigned primarily to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). USAID was created by executive order in 1961, following passage of the
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Improving Democracy Assistance: Building Knowledge through Evaluations and Research Foreign Assistance Act, but its roots reach back to efforts such as the Marshall Plan to reconstruct Europe after World War II and the Food for Peace Program. Originally created to promote economic development, over the years the agency’s mandate has expanded to include health, the environment, humanitarian assistance, conflict management and mitigation, and the promotion of democracy and good governance, as each of these has been deemed crucial to the overall U.S. foreign policy goals of improving the social and economic welfare of developing countries and increasing international peace and stability. USAID’s current democracy and governance (DG) activities date from the mid-1980s when a series of countries in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and then Central Europe and the former Soviet Union began the transition from various forms of authoritarian rule. Presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Clinton gave USAID the tasks of providing assistance to countries trying to develop democratic forms of government and creating programs to encourage other countries to embark on similar reforms. The administration of George W. Bush has continued and in some cases expanded this aid as a key element in its policy of “transformational diplomacy.” Behind efforts to support the spread of democracy promotion lies the belief that increasing democracy in developing nations will promote economic growth, diminish the risks of terrorism, and reduce the frequency of internal and international conflicts. Whether or not democracy actually has all of these effects, and under what conditions, is far from certain. As discussed further below, there is a substantial academic and policy debate on the merits of promoting democratic transitions (Goldstone and Ulfelder 2004, Halperin et al 2004, Mansfield and Snyder 2005, Ackerman 2006, Sanders and Halperin 2006, Epstein et al 2007). However, at present the international community, led mainly by democratic nations, continues to believe that helping nations transition to democracy is a significant route to promoting peace and economic development. This debate is far beyond the scope of this report, which will accept the goal of supporting democracy as a current aspect of policy and focus on how USAID can better assess whether its current efforts are having an impact on achieving that goal. Since 1990, USAID has supported democracy programs in approximately 120 countries and territories with budgets ranging from tens of thousands to hundreds of millions of dollars. The most comprehensive analysis of USAID DG spending estimates total expenditures between 1990 and 2005 at $8.47 billion in constant 2000 U.S. dollars (Azpuru et al. 2008). Total annual USAID DG expenditures currently run over $1 billion; for fiscal year (FY) 2008 the request for DG, including both USAID and some much smaller amounts for the State Department, was $1.45 billion,
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Improving Democracy Assistance: Building Knowledge through Evaluations and Research with $374 million allocated to Iraq and Afghanistan (Congressional Budget Justification [CBJ] 2008).1 The programs are supported by hundreds of DG officers and other personnel in Washington and at overseas missions. As of 2004, DG comprised the agency’s largest category of technical expertise among direct hire personnel at just over 400 (USAID 2006), although not everyone in this category is doing DG work at any given time. Yet the funding of DG efforts, given their high priority for U.S. foreign policy and frequent mandate to help transform political systems into democracies, is relatively modest. In many countries, projects that are not strictly DG but that respond to related national needs may find a home under the DG umbrella, so the amount of effort actually focused on democracy building is smaller than may at first appear.2 Moreover, DG funds comprise only a small portion of what the United States spends on its international engagements. The total FY2008 budget request for foreign assistance, which includes DG programs, was $20.3 billion (CBJ 2008:1). Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (2007) argued in a speech at Kansas State University: Funding for non-military foreign-affairs programs has increased since 2001, but it remains disproportionately small relative to what we spend on the military and to the importance of such capabilities. Consider that this year’s budget for the Department of Defense—not counting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan—is nearly half a trillion dollars. The total foreign affairs budget request for the State Department is $36 billion, less than what the Pentagon spends on health care alone. This means that direct funding for democracy assistance by the United States constitutes less than 10 percent of U.S. spending on foreign assistance (most of which is for economic and humanitarian aid), about 4 percent of total nonmilitary spending on foreign affairs, and less than one-quarter of 1 percent of what is spent by the U.S. military. Put another way, the entire U.S. DG budget request for $1.45 billion for FY2008 for worldwide efforts to transform countries into stable democracies is about one-tenth the annual budget request of the State of California’s Depart- 1 One result of the consolidated budgeting process instituted as part of the foreign assistance reforms described in the next chapter is that, at least for the FY2008 request, it is not possible to break USAID out from the combined State-USAID request (interview with USAID staff, September 10, 2007). There are additional funds in the supplemental requests for Iraq and Afghanistan that might be considered DG programming, but the committee was not able to obtain an estimate for those expenditures. 2 For example, in Uganda the work on peace building and reconciliation in Northern Uganda is included in the DG program, and the Peru DG program includes a project to help farmers in coca-producing areas develop alternative crops (see Appendix E for further information).
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Improving Democracy Assistance: Building Knowledge through Evaluations and Research ment of Transportation for $12.8 billion simply for highway maintenance and construction (State of California 2007). The committee stresses at the outset the imbalance between what USAID’s missions are asked to do in democracy and governance—to help countries steer their entire participation and governance system in the direction of greater or more stable democracy—and the constrained financial resources they have at their disposal for this task. The committee believes this imbalance is central to any assessment of whether USAID DG projects are actually raising the level of democracy worldwide and also to the way in which the projects are examined to evaluate their impact. USAID’s DG efforts include programs in countries undertaking democratic reforms and countries that are not yet seeking such reforms. Most of the projects are not carried out by USAID personnel but through contracts and grants with private firms and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). USAID’s main role in democracy promotion is thus to plan projects and then select contractors to implement them, or choose local or international NGOs to receive grant support for their activities. USAID is the single largest provider of funding for democracy assistance. However, in many countries USAID is just one agency among many others providing democracy assistance.3 Although each donor agency plans and carries out its own programs, coordination with other donors occurs on several levels: within countries among donors, through bilateral channels, and through such multilateral venues as the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). USAID’s DG Programs USAID programs to promote DG focus on four distinct but related goals, which are now collectively called “Governing Justly and Demo- 3 Some of the other major organizations providing democracy assistance include the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DfID), Germany’s Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ), the Swedish Agency for International Development Cooperation (SIDA), the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD), and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). Many nongovernmental or quasi-governmental organizations, such as the National Endowment for Democracy, the International Foundation for Election Systems, the National Democratic Institute, and the International Republican Institute are also active in international programs of democracy assistance. The Organization for American States is actively promoting democracy in the Americas. Multilateral donor agencies, such as the World Bank, the United Nations Development Program, and the OECD Development Assistance Committee, have also made promotion of good governance (a vague concept but one that overlaps with many elements of democracy, including transparency and accountability of government and impartial rule of law) a priority in their work.
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Improving Democracy Assistance: Building Knowledge through Evaluations and Research cratically,” under the reforms of foreign assistance undertaken by the Bush administration. As shown on the USAID Web site (2007), these are: Strengthening the rule of law and respect for human rights The term ‘rule of law’ embodies the basic principles of equal treatment of all people before the law, fairness, and both constitutional and actual guarantees of basic human rights. A predictable legal system with fair, transparent, and effective judicial institutions is essential to the protection of citizens against the arbitrary use of state authority and lawless acts of both organizations and individuals…. Without the rule of law, the executive and legislative branches of government operate without checks and balances, free and fair elections are not possible, and civil society cannot flourish. Beyond the democracy and governance sector, the accomplishment of other USAID goals also relies on effective rule of law. Promoting more genuine and competitive elections and political processes Free and fair elections are vital to a functioning democracy. When a country is emerging out of a protracted civil war, or in cases where a country’s government has lost the confidence of its citizens, it is often necessary to hold elections very quickly…. Competitive political parties are central to any democracy. They perform a number of functions that, in combination, distinguish them from any other civic or social organization. Increased development of a politically active civil society The hallmark of a free society is the ability of individuals to associate with like-minded individuals, express their views publicly, openly debate public policy, and petition their government. ‘Civil society’ is an increasingly accepted term which best describes the nongovernmental, not-for-profit, independent nature of this segment of society. More transparent and accountable governance A key determinant for successful democratic consolidation is the ability of democratically-elected governments to provide ‘good governance.’ … ‘Good governance’ assumes a government’s ability to maintain social peace, guarantee law and order, promote or create conditions necessary for economic growth, and ensure a minimum level of social security. Yet many new governments fail to realize the long-term benefits of adopting effective governance policies. These four goals have remained remarkably constant since the first democracy assistance strategy was adopted in the early 1990s and then enshrined in USAID practice at the outset of the Clinton administration. USAID has thus continued to rely on a consistent framework of challenges and programs to meet them for more than 15 years. The four broad goals are supported by program components such as Promote Media Freedom, Support Credible Elections, Strengthen Politi-
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Improving Democracy Assistance: Building Knowledge through Evaluations and Research cal Parties, Strengthen Justice Sector, and Reduce Corruption. In the field these program components are translated into projects, each of which may include many separate activities.4 For example, a large stock of projects has been developed to train political parties to compete, to increase civic participation, and to encourage judicial or legislative competence and autonomy. Many DG missions are supporting activities to improve democratic practices within political parties, heighten women’s participation in politics, provide technical support to judges or legislators, increase the number of active NGOs, and promote decentralization of government services. As discussed further in the next section, the design and implementation of all of these efforts depend on knowledge and assumptions about what causes, sustains, or hinders the process of democratization. DEMOCRATIC DEVELOPMENT AND DEMOCRACY ASSISTANCE: WHAT DO WE KNOW? Ideally, USAID and other providers of DG assistance would be guided in achieving their goals by a well-defined theory of democratic development that could identify where a recipient country stood on feasible trajectories toward stable democracy and which elements or driving factors needed to be supplied or strengthened in order to overcome obstacles and move forward on such a trajectory. It would then select among programs known to provide or strengthen those specific elements and tailor their implementation to that country’s specific needs. Unfortunately, the growth of widely accepted findings regarding the causes and consequences of democratization has lagged behind the growth of democracy assistance activities. Scholars continue to debate exactly how to define democracy, what pathways lead most reliably to full liberal democracy, what the necessary conditions are to achieve and stabilize democracies, and what the consequences are of transitions to democracy for various sets of institutions and geohistorical contexts (Lowenthal 1991, Lijphart 1999, Cox et al 2000, Przeworski et al 2000, Diamond and Plattner 2001, Mansfield and Snyder 2002, Bunce 2003, Chua 2003, Junne and Cross 2003, Acemoglu and Robinson 2005, Pevehouse 2005, Shapiro 2005, Bunce and Wolchik 2006, Tilly 2007). In policy terms this means that scholars can provide only qualified advice on how to move countries 4 USAID has no standard terms for the various levels of its work. In this report “programs” is used to capture higher levels such as DG, which undertake various “projects” in countries, and these projects in turn may involve multiple “activities.” When speaking of evaluating “programs” or “projects” in this report, the committee refers to the evaluation of specific activities to determine whether they are having their desired impact. It is recognized that clusters of such activities may need to be evaluated to assess the overall impact of a large project or, even more broadly, of program activity in a given country or countries.
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Improving Democracy Assistance: Building Knowledge through Evaluations and Research from dictatorship to stable and full liberal democracy; on how to shore up recently emerged or fragile democracies; or on precisely how to use democratization to address problems of terrorism, domestic or international conflict, or economic decay. It is probably fair to say that scholars know far more about what fully democratic countries look like and how they function than about how nondemocratic or partially democratic countries make the transition to stable full democracies. These limitations notwithstanding, the field of democracy studies has expanded enormously in the past few decades. In the years immediately following World War II, the main obstacle to the spread of democracy was considered to be communism. Modernization theory argued that if societies could just be kept on a path toward capitalism and free markets, political freedom and democracy would eventually follow.5 Yet modernization theory was swept aside in the 1970s and 1980s in a wave of detailed scholarship on the highly varied trajectories of developing, postcolonial, and capitalist and socialist societies. The emergence throughout the developing world in the 1960s and 1970s of a variety of military dictatorships, postcolonial dictatorships, capitalist one-party states, and frequent reversions or collapses of new democratic regimes provoked scholars to reexamine their assumptions. Rather than a nearly inevitable tendency driven by modernization, progress toward democracy came to be seen as a highly problematic process, fragile and prone to reversal. Building on a few seminal works, from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America to Seymour Martin Lipset’s Political Man and Robert Dahl’s Polyarchy, scholars have developed a host of new data and theories regarding democracy. There are at least two journals entirely devoted to democracy studies (The Journal of Democracy and Democratization), and a multivolume Encyclopedia of Democracy (Lipset 1995). The Web site supplement to this report contains a partial bibliography of recent scholarship on democracy and democratization that runs to nearly 20 pages.6 This literature falls into three broad groupings. Cross-national quantitative analyses seek to identify the average impact of various factors—income, education, culture, religion, or institutional background, for example—on the frequency with which countries undergo democratic transitions or reversions or on the level of democracy as measured by widely used indicators such as the one developed by Freedom House (e.g., Bollen and Jackman 1985, Lewis-Beck and Burhart 1994, Muller and 5 Modernization theory (Rostow 1960, Huntington 1968) argued that traditional authoritarianism would inevitably give way to demands for mass participation with the spread of industrialization and mass media. Whether such demands gave rise to liberal democracies or communist dictatorships depended on how such mass participation was channeled into politics, whether through competitive party systems or communist one-party states. 6 See http://www7.nationalacademies.org/dsc/USAID_Democracy_Program.html.
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Improving Democracy Assistance: Building Knowledge through Evaluations and Research Seligson 1994, Pzerworski et al 2000, Boix and Stokes 2003, Inglehart and Welzel 2005, Epstein et al 2006). Comparative and historical analyses seek to identify the key elements in the democratic transitions or outcomes of specific states, usually in a particular region or particular type of transition. Thus, there have been studies of democratization in Latin America, Europe, or Africa and studies of major social revolutions and of peaceful transitions through elite pacts or protest and reforms (e.g., O’Donnell et al 1986; Goldstone et al 1991; Reuschemeyer et al 1992; Linz and Stepan 1996; Bratton and van de Walle 1997; Diamond and Plattner 1998, 1999, 2001; Mahoney 2001; Bunce 2003; Tilly 2004). Policy research, which may also include comparative and historical analyses, tends to focus more on policy choices and their consequences and is more likely to try to offer practical advice for decision makers (e.g., Carothers 1999, 2004, 2006b; de Zeeuw and Kumar 2006). Practitioners’ reflections, a subset of policy research, provide accounts of experiences with programs for democracy promotion or stabilization in various countries, offering “lessons learned” and generalizations to inform other efforts (Dobbins 2003, Durch 2006). Within each of these groups, controversies and debates have arisen over the definition of democracy and the role of various factors in promoting or consolidating democracy. Moreover, the lack of consensus is as pronounced across as within the various genres. As one eminent scholar has suggested: “We should not search for a single set of circumstances or a repeated series of events that everywhere produces democracy…. We should look instead for robust, recurrent causal mechanisms that combine differently, with different aggregate outcomes, in different settings” (Tilly 2004:9). Rather than providing accepted generalizations on which to base DG programming, the academic literature has been more successful in documenting the great degree of variation in the process of democratization. For example, in the past 50 years, many of the countries that moved toward democracy leapt quickly from dictatorship to democracy (as in Eastern Europe after 1989), while others (such as Mexico, South Korea, and Taiwan) made a series of incremental steps, gradually increasing civil liberties and political competition (Goldstone 2007). There is a clear correlation between higher national incomes and the incidence of stable democracy (Lipset 1960, Barro 1999, Epstein et al 2006), yet a number of relatively poor countries have been successful in sustaining democracy as well (e.g., India, Botswana, Jamaica, and Mauritius). It is also clear that multiple processes have led countries from dictatorship to democracy, ranging from violent revolutions to relatively peaceful protest-driven reforms to pacts orchestrated among elites (e.g., O’Donnell et al 1986, Mahoney 2001, Bunce and Wolchik 2006). Moreover, researchers have not yet concluded that there is a single form of democracy that is most suc-
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Improving Democracy Assistance: Building Knowledge through Evaluations and Research cessful. Presidential and parliamentary systems, centralized and federal systems, two-party and multiparty systems have all seen both great success and unfortunate failures in diverse countries (Przeworski et al 2000). It is not clear what conclusions should be drawn for democracy assistance from these findings, especially since the academic study of democracy assistance per se, in contrast to studying the broad contours of democracy and democratization, is still in its infancy.7 USAID and other democracy assistance agencies therefore face a difficult task. Practitioners’ reflections present informed viewpoints and policy research often presents thoughtful and systematic analysis, but their judgments about program success or failure are not rigorously tested according to academic standards. Yet since academic debates regarding democratization remain largely unresolved, they offer little practical guidance on what to do in a given country to build or sustain democracy. Policy professionals working in democracy assistance have therefore formed their own “practical wisdom,” based on elements drawn from their readings of the academic and think tank literature, their own experiences, and what they glean from other practitioners. Policy professionals thus often describe democracy promotion as “more of an art than a science,” where policy choices must depend on intuition and personal judgment as much or more than on any scientific guidelines. Despite this range of conflicting findings, there are some things that are known. First, there are more countries that can reasonably claim to be democracies, if only partially achieved, than ever before. Second, among emerging democracies there is considerable variation within and among countries, such that advances are often met with setbacks (Hagopian and Mainwaring 2005). Third, with respect to democracy assistance efforts, one very encouraging finding from recent academic research is that, on average, democracy assistance does matter and has a positive impact on democratic progress. Several statistical studies have found that, while controlling for a wide variety of other factors, higher levels of democratic assistance are on average associated with movement from lower 7 Early and continuing groundbreaking comparative work on the impact of democracy assistance in different contexts was done by Tom Carothers and colleagues at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. By contrast, a major center of comparative/historical research on democracy and democratic transition—Stanford University’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL)—has only just begun its first studies of the impact of democracy assistance (McFaul 2006). Also, the first statistical analyses of the impact of democracy assistance have only recently begun to appear in major academic journals (Finkel et al 2007, 2008). As further evidence of the relatively immature state of studies of democracy assistance, the Network of Democracy Research Institutes, organized by the National Endowment for Democracy, is just six years old. Harvard University only established its Ash Institute for Democratic Governance in 2003, Stanford University its CDDRL in 2004, and Georgetown University its Center for Democracy and Civil Society in 2002.
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Improving Democracy Assistance: Building Knowledge through Evaluations and Research to higher levels of democracy, as measured by some of the most general indices of democratic government (Al-Momani 2003; Finkel et al 2007, 2008; Kalyvitis and Vlachaki 2007; Azpuru et al 2008). These effects are robust and statistically significant, providing the clearest evidence to date that democracy assistance generally meets its desired goals. Thus, despite all of the confusion and conflicting findings, there is a sense that (1) democracy is moving ahead in the world and (2) foreign assistance generally and in some specific cases has made a difference. Unfortunately, it is also true that in a number of highly important cases—such as Haiti, Egypt, and post-Soviet Russia—large volumes of democracy assistance have yielded disappointing results. It is also alarming that in a number of cases in recent years—Pakistan, Thailand, Bangladesh—countries that seemed on the path to greater democracy have reversed course. There is mounting evidence for a “democracy backlash” in which authoritarian and semiauthoritarian regimes are actively resisting donor efforts as well as internal advocates of democracy (Carothers 2006a). Some research further suggests that authoritarian regimes have become adept at providing economic openings or limited civil liberties to deflect dissent while still maintaining a tight grip on authority (Bueno de Mesquita and Downs 2005). In summary, the conditions that face the United States and USAID for supporting the advance of democracy are growing ever more challenging. It is therefore crucial, if USAID’s democracy assistance is to be more effective and make best use of scarce resources, that the agency (and other donors) be able to identify which elements of their complex and multifold democracy assistance projects are doing the most work to move democracy forward. Moreover, they would like to know which DG projects work best to accomplish specific goals in particular countries. USAID’S REQUEST TO THE NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL8 Strategic and Operational Research Agenda USAID has supported external research on many aspects of democracy and governance and undertaken significant internal efforts as part of its search for relevant knowledge and insights to guide its policies. The USAID Web site offers a wide array of publications, covering the range 8 The National Research Council (NRC) is part of the National Academies, which also includes the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. Created in 1916, the NRC has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities.
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Improving Democracy Assistance: Building Knowledge through Evaluations and Research the committee also sees as its responsibility suggesting procedures and organizational reforms that will assist USAID in a broad span of learning activities. These include efforts at improving measures of democracy, learning from comparative and historical case studies of democratization, and developing a diversity of designs for project evaluation. It also includes outlining incentives and procedures to increase active learning and the application of new knowledge and ideas to the planning and implementation of DG activities. REPORT OVERVIEW Major Findings and Recommendations The committee considered both retrospective and prospective approaches to studying USAID activities and how to make best use of methods ranging from case studies to randomized evaluations to the structured sharing of USAID DG officers’ experiences through debriefings and conferences. Based on this work, the committee’s most important conclusions and recommendations are: Most evaluations of DG programs have been designed to meet a variety of diverse monitoring and management needs. While yielding valuable insights, they have not provided compelling evidence of program effects. Collecting the information needed to most clearly determine the impact of DG projects—including before and after measurements on key outcome variables, documentation of changes in policy-relevant outcomes rather than activities completed, and measurements on both the groups receiving assistance and control or comparison groups that did not—is not currently part of most monitoring and evaluation plans for DG programs. USAID needs to gain experience with impact evaluations, including those using randomized designs, to learn whether they could improve its ability to more accurately ascertain the effects of its DG programs. If their feasibility is demonstrated for a wide range of DG projects, impact evaluations could provide critical information on what works best, and under what conditions, in democracy assistance. Such impact evaluations could take a variety of forms, depending on the character and conditions of specific DG programs. Large N randomized evaluations provide the most accurate and credible determination of the impact of aid programs and should be used where possible. Field studies suggest that many current DG programs (e.g., decentralization programs) could be studied using randomized designs. For those DG programs where randomization is not suitable, other impact evaluation
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Improving Democracy Assistance: Building Knowledge through Evaluations and Research designs are available, ranging from studies with matched or national baseline comparison groups to single-case studies that use time-series data to examine how outcomes change over time in response to USAID DG assistance. There is considerable skepticism, among both scholars and policymakers, regarding the feasibility and appropriateness of applying rigorous impact evaluations to DG activities. On this committee, Larry Garber emphatically shares these concerns. Most of the committee members, on the other hand, while acknowledging and respecting the skepticism among many policymakers, believe that rigorous impact evaluations of DG projects are feasible and that they will provide the most accurate and credible way for U.S. taxpayers as well as the citizens of the countries in which USAID funds democracy programs to gain assurance as to which DG programs work and which do not. Given these differences in opinion and the need to acquire capacity and experience with using impact evaluations to learn the effects of DG programs, the committee unanimously recommends that USAID begin a pilot initiative designed to demonstrate whether such evaluations can help USAID determine the effects of its DG projects on policy-relevant outcomes. This initiative should include randomized studies and focus on DG projects that are in wide use or represent major investments for USAID; it should also offer expertise and support to missions and DG officers who wish to conduct varied forms of impact evaluations suited to learning about the impact of their programs. To better track democratic changes in countries for strategic assessment and policy planning, USAID and other national and international organizations providing democracy assistance should explore making a substantial investment in the systematic collection of democracy indicators at a disaggregated, sectoral level—focused on the components of democracy rather than (or in addition to) the overall concept. Rather than attempting to arrive at a single score capturing all elements of the quality of democracy in a country, this effort should focus on how to best map out a country’s politics along a number of discrete dimensions (e.g., civil liberty, transparency, judicial independence, checks on the executive). Such a disaggregated index would allow policymakers to clarify how, specifically, one country’s democratic features differ from others in the region or across regions and better identify how changes are occurring over time. These measures should aim to be more transparent, objective, sensitive, and widely accepted than currently available measures of democracy, which have substantial flaws. To learn more about the role of its DG assistance projects in a broader range of settings and in varied trajectories of democratization, USAID should either sponsor or seek to gain from ongoing academic
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Improving Democracy Assistance: Building Knowledge through Evaluations and Research research a more diverse and more theoretically structured set of case studies of democracy assistance than it has developed in the past. The committee suggests that these case studies should examine countries in which USAID has invested substantially and in which it has invested little, countries in which democratization unfolded successfully and where it failed or was reversed, and countries that included a range of varied initial conditions in which DG assistance was offered (e.g., authoritarian or semiauthoritarian regimes, emerging or transitional democracies, and countries emerging from violent internal conflicts). To better translate learning into policy planning and effective management, USAID should rebuild its institutional mechanisms for absorbing and disseminating the results of its work and evaluations, as well as its own research and the research of others, on processes of democratization and democracy assistance. This should include conferences, panels, and other creative and active learning opportunities. These should include discussion of its own program evaluations and other research; debate on the work of academics, think tanks, and other donor organizations; and sharing of experiences among DG officers and implementers and other DG assistance providers. The remainder of this report presents evidence that supports these conclusions and recommendations and offers additional specific recommendations for USAID actions to achieve them. A Note on Evaluations Because the main task given the committee by SORA was to provide guidance to USAID on how to determine the effects of its DG programs, this report spends considerable time discussing issues of evaluation design. This is because for the specific task of determining a project’s true effects, there is no substitute for a well-designed impact evaluation. Some of this discussion (especially in Chapters 5 and 6) is quite technical because the issues of evaluation design are complicated, especially when dealing with many of the conditions in which USAID must actually work, where USAID does not control the assignment of assistance, conditions are rapidly changing, and pressures from many diverse sources affect programming. The committee stresses that in its discussion of evaluation practices the committee is not breaking new ground methodologically. If the purpose of an evaluation is to provide evidence that a project has had its intended impact, there is a consensus in the social sciences and program evaluation research communities about the methods that will provide the most confidence in making those judgments (Cook and Campbell 1979, Shadish et al 2001, Wholey et al 2004). Moreover, the committee’s recom-
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Improving Democracy Assistance: Building Knowledge through Evaluations and Research mendations regarding evaluations, and the emphasis on the potential value of undertaking more impact evaluations of aid programs as the best way to improve aid effectiveness, are not unique. Instead, they align with a growing number of recommendations from private foundations, think tanks, and donor governments that have urged greater efforts in exploring the use of impact evaluations to improve DG and other types of foreign assistance.11 It is also recognized, however, that some of the evaluation procedures that the committee (as well as other groups and reports) recommends have not been widely employed in some sectors of the development community, especially in the area of democracy and governance. In fact, as noted above, the committee is aware of significant skepticism among policy professionals and academics regarding the feasibility and appropriateness of applying so-called scientific or randomized evaluation procedures to democracy assistance programming.12 Perhaps the most important source of skepticism is the belief that applying rigorous impact evaluation procedures to DG programs is impractical given the actual conditions of designing and implementing DG assistance. Committee member Larry Garber strongly noted this point. Or the restrictions on who receives DG programming that is sometimes necessary in order to conduct a rigorous impact evaluation may be considered an unethical failure to respond to an urgent need. The committee took these objections seriously. What the committee thinks is unique about this project is that we are not drawing on only academic practices or the ideal of how project evaluation should proceed. The committee commissioned fieldwork in three countries—Albania, Peru, and Uganda—to explore the feasibility and desirability of changing evaluation procedures to produce stronger evidence of whether projects were having their intended impact. Independent consultants—chosen for their academic expertise, expertise in the countries or regions visited, and experience in either doing DG-relevant research in the field using the proposed methods or in working with USAID on other aspects of project evaluation—were hired to work with mission DG staff in discussing the potential for revised evaluation procedures.13 11 These are described in a more detailed discussion of evaluation practices in Chapter 2. 12 See, for example, the commentary in Banerjee (2007); see also Cook (2006), Davidson (2006), and Scriven (2006). White (2006, 2007) has argued that the portion of development aid that can be subject to randomized impact evaluation is severely limited. 13 The consultants’ biographies can be found in Appendix E, along with the major findings from the visits. The teams were accompanied by a USAID DG staff officer from the SORA project and NRC professional staff members. Following the three field visits, the committee convened a public session at its July 2007 meeting to discuss the findings of the field visits with USAID and a number of DG implementers.
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Improving Democracy Assistance: Building Knowledge through Evaluations and Research This significantly expanded the range of views and experience available to the committee and, it is hoped, added greater realism to the eventual findings and recommendations. This report uses that field experience to address the most frequently voiced objections regarding the application of more rigorous evaluation procedures to DG programs (see Chapter 6 in particular). In addition, because it is recognized that “best-case” scenarios for employing impact evaluations often cannot be realized, Chapter 7 discusses a large number of “next-best” procedures and practical modifications of DG evaluation practices. Finally, because only actual experience with using the methods in the field on actual DG projects can truly address the skepticism and concerns about more rigorous evaluations, and because current USAID and implementer capabilities to undertake these methods are limited and would need to be developed, the committee’s actual recommendations are modest and cautious. The committee proposes that a number of impact evaluations, particularly randomized designs, be tested initially through a special initiative aimed at a limited number of thoughtfully chosen DG projects to demonstrate the feasibility and value of such impact evaluations for guiding DG programming. While this report places great stress on opportunities to build knowledge through exploring the use of impact evaluations, the committee realizes that building knowledge requires more than just efforts to acquire information. The committee therefore recommends that efforts to improve DG project evaluations be part of a broader initiative to restore and augment USAID’s capacity as a learning organization. This initiative should create ongoing programs to involve DG officers throughout the agency in discussion and analysis of research on DG assistance generated inside and outside the agency, including case studies, academic research, and the work of NGOs and other donors. The key to this effort will be the degree to which USAID staff and key implementers are involved in ongoing efforts to share and disseminate their experience, and draw on a variety of sources, to inform program planning and execution. Plan of the Report The chapters in this report provide supporting analysis that underpins the committee’s major recommendations. Chapter 2 reviews and assesses current approaches to monitoring and evaluation used by USAID in the context of current evaluation practice in the development assistance community. It distinguishes among various kinds of evaluations for various purposes and discusses how properly designed impact evaluations could make an important addition to USAID’s current mix of monitoring and evaluation practices.
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Improving Democracy Assistance: Building Knowledge through Evaluations and Research Chapter 3 reviews and analyzes current approaches to measuring democracy and their limitations for USAID’s strategic assessment and tracking needs. The analysis draws in part on a workshop held at Boston University in January 2007 to explore the current “state of the art” in the indicators used to track and assess the status of democracy and governance in countries over time (see Appendix C for further information). A somewhat technical chapter, it offers a plan for improving such measures by focusing on measurements at the level of sectoral components of democracy and argues for the need for USAID—either alone or in conjunction with other U.S. government or international agencies—to lead a research project to develop more credible, transparent, objective, and widely accepted measures to track democratic change than current indicators provide. Many of the terms used in this chapter and in Chapters 5 through 7 are defined in the Glossary at the end of this report. Chapter 4 examines the lessons that can be derived from historical case studies of democratization and democracy assistance and offers suggestions about how USAID can gain more extensive and theoretically structured case studies that would examine the role of democracy assistance in diverse trajectories of democratic development. It draws on a second workshop in March 2007 cosponsored with the Center for Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law at Stanford University (see Appendix D for further information), which focused on insights that current academic research could provide about democratic transitions and consolidations as a foundation for understanding the potential contributions of democracy assistance. Chapter 5 returns to the issue of developing sound impact evaluations and provides a theoretical overview of best practices in program evaluation. It examines a variety of designs for impact evaluations, ranging from those suited to projects that involve large numbers of cases with the possibility of randomized assignments to assistance and control groups, to designs where randomization is not possible and for circumstances involving small numbers of cases and even programs with but a single case. As mentioned above, Chapters 6 and 7 focus on the feasibility of using various evaluation designs to determine the impact of current USAID DG projects, based on lessons from the committee’s field visits to DG missions in Albania, Peru, and Uganda. Additional information about the field visits can be found in Appendix E. These chapters explore when randomized assignment might or might not be attainable for actual DG projects, alternatives to randomized assignments, common objections to conducting impact evaluations for DG-type activities, and how to develop impact evaluations in particularly difficult conditions (e.g., one-case situations or cases where USAID has little or no control over which specific
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Improving Democracy Assistance: Building Knowledge through Evaluations and Research \ groups or locations receive funding). Chapter 7 also describes how survey research, which is already being widely employed by USAID, could be used for an impact evaluation design, as well as to provide country-level and project-level data for other evaluations. Chapters 8 and 9 look at USAID’s overall organization. Chapter 8 offers proposals for how USAID could adapt its own organizational procedures, either through new efforts or the adjustment of current practices, to reduce the barriers to conducting impact evaluations and, just as important, become more of a “learning organization” that systematically benefits from its own assessments and evaluations and also absorbs lessons from outside researchers and other organizations involved in or studying democracy assistance. Chapter 9 lays out the committee’s recommendation for an “evaluation initiative” to test the feasibility of applying impact evaluation methods to DG projects and proposes supporting measures to increase USAID’s evaluation capabilities and resources more generally. REFERENCES Acemoglu, D., and Robinson, J.A. 2005. Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press. Ackerman, S. 2006. Against Democracy. The American Prospect. Available at: http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?articleId=11933. Accessed on January 11, 2008. Al-Momani, M.H. 2003. Financial Transfer and Its Impact on the Level of Democracy: A Pooled Cross-Sectional Time Series Model. Ph.D. thesis, University of North Texas. Azpuru, D., Finkel, S., Pérez-Liñán, A., and Seligson, M.A. 2008. American Democracy Assistance, Patterns and Priorities. Journal of Democracy 91(2). Banerjee, A.V., ed. 2007. Making Aid Work. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Barro, R.J. 1999. Determinants of Democracy. Journal of Political Economy 6:158-183. Boix, C., and Stokes, S. 2003. Endogenous Democratization. World Politics 55(4):517-549. Bollen, K., and Jackman, R.W. 1985. Economic and Noneconomic Determinants of Political Democracy in the 1960s. Research in Political Sociology 1:27-48. Bollen, K., Paxton, P., and Morishima, R. 2003. Research Design to Evaluate the Impact of USAID Democracy and Governance Programs. Social Science Research Council, New York. Unpublished. Bollen, K., Paxton, P., and Morishima, R. 2005. Assessing International Evaluations: An Example from USAID’s Democracy and Governance Programs. American Journal of Evaluation 26:189-203. Bratton, M., and van de Walle, N. 1997. Democratic Experiments in Africa. New York: Cambridge University Press. Bueno de Mesquita, B., and Downs, G.W. 2005. Democracy and Development. Foreign Affairs 84(Sept/Oct). Bunce, V. 2003. Rethinking Recent Democratization: Lessons from the Postcommunist Experience. World Politics 55(Jan):167-192. Bunce, V., and Wolchik, S.L. 2006. Favorable Conditions and Electoral Revolutions. Journal of Democracy 17(4):5-18. Carothers, T. 1999. Aiding Democracy Abroad: The Learning Curve. Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment.
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