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Improving Democracy Assistance: Building Knowledge through Evaluations and Research
to aggregate them may never be achieved. Thus, if USAID is seeking an operational measure of democracy to track changes in countries over time and where it is engaged, a more practical approach would be to disaggregate the various components of democracy and track changes in democratization by looking at changes in those components.
Yet even for the varied components of democracy, there are no available measures that are widely accepted and have demonstrated the validity, accuracy, and sensitivity that would make them useful for USAID in tracking modest changes in democratic conditions in specific countries. The development of a widely recognized disaggregated definition of democracy, with clearly defined and objectively measurable components, would be the result of a considerable research project that is yet to be done.
This chapter provides an analysis of existing measures of democracy and points the way toward developing a disaggregated measure of the type requested by USAID. The committee finds that most existing measures of democracy are adequate, and in fair agreement, at the level of crude determination of whether a country is solidly democratic, autocratic, or somewhere in between. However, the committee also finds that all existing measures are severely inadequate at tracking small movements or small differences in levels of democracy between countries or in a single country over time. Moreover, the committee finds that existing measures disaggregate democracy in very different ways and that their measures of various components of democracy do not provide transparent, objective, independent, or reliable indicators of change in those components over time.
While recognizing that it may seem self-serving for an academic committee to recommend “more research,” it is the committee’s belief—after surveying the academic literature and convening a workshop of experts in democracy measures to discuss the issue—that if USAID wishes a measure of democracy that it can use to gauge the impact of its programs and track the progress of countries in which it is active, it faces a stark choice: either rely on the current flawed measures of democracy or help support the development of a research project on democracy indicators that—it is hoped—will eventually produce a set of indicators with the broadly accepted integrity of today’s national accounts indicators for economic development.
To provide just a few examples to preview the discussion below, USAID manages its DG programs with an eye toward four broad areas: rule of law, elections, civil society, and good governance. Yet consider the two most widely used indicators of democracy: the Polity autocracy/ democracy scale and the Freedom House scales of civil liberties and political rights. The former breaks down its measures of democracy into three components: executive recruitment, executive constraints, and political