less, USAID seeks to find ways to determine which programs, in which countries, are having the greatest impact in supporting democratic institutions and behaviors and how those effects unfold. To do otherwise would risk making poor use of scarce funds and to remain uncertain about the effectiveness of an important national policy.
Yet USAID’s current evaluation practices do not provide compelling evidence of the impacts of DG programs. While gathering valuable information for project tracking and management, these evaluations usually do not collect data that are critical to making the most accurate and credible determination of project impacts—such as obtaining baseline measures of targeted outcomes before a project is begun or tracking changes in appropriately selected (or assigned) comparison groups to serve as a control or reference group.
USAID has been seeking better evidence for the effects of its DG projects. In 2000 the Office of Democracy and Governance created the Strategic and Operational Research Agenda (SORA). Under SORA, USAID has commissioned studies of its DG evaluations and underwritten a recent cross-national study of the effects of its democracy assistance programs since 1990. A very encouraging finding from that study is that democracy assistance does matter for democratic progress. The study (Finkel et al 2007; see also the second-phase study, Finkel et al 2008) found that, when controlling for a wide variety of other factors, higher levels of democracy assistance are, on average, associated with movement to higher levels of democracy. These results provide the clearest evidence to date that democracy assistance contributes toward achieving its desired goals.
Unfortunately, it is also true that in a number of highly important cases—such as Egypt and post-Soviet Russia—large volumes of democracy assistance have yielded disappointing results. In addition to knowledge about general effects, USAID needs to know the positive or negative effects of specific projects and why DG assistance has been more successful in some contexts than in others. SORA turned to the National Research Council (NRC) for assistance in how to gain greater insight into which democracy assistance projects are having the greatest impacts. This report is intended to provide a road map to enable USAID and its partners to build, absorb, and act on improved knowledge about assisting the development of democracy in a variety of contexts.
The USAID Office of Democracy and Governance asked the NRC for help in developing improved methods for learning about the effectiveness and impact of its work, both retrospectively and in the future. Specifically, the project is to provide: