A new perspective on aid delivery
It is rare to get a real insight into the differences within and between agencies in how aid is delivered. A new book, Navigation by Judgment: Why and When Top-down Management of Foreign Aid Doesn’t Work by Dan Honig, does this.
For most of us who have worked in aid-funded programs, it is a mystifying and frustrating business, especially when you have had the experience of working for different aid agencies as I have had (UNICEF, AusAid, USAID and the German aid agency (GIZ), as well as multilaterals such as the ADB).
After reading a highly favourable review by Lant Pritchett on the Building State Capability Blog, I purchased the book, not least because I noted that Dan had worked on a youth-related project in Timor-Leste, as I had done. The book’s insight is not a new one, but what is new is that it is built on two solid evidential bases: an econometric analysis of a huge database of delivery outcomes of aid projects and eight case studies in two countries of the differences between USAID and DFID (UK aid) modes of aid delivery.
Honig’s main finding, with some qualifications, is that program outcomes are better where aid agencies allow and encourage their direct staff or contracted staff to have greater latitude to exercise ‘judgement’. I prefer to use the Australian spelling because the word ‘judgment’ in an Australian context can refer to legal decisions, the opposite of what Honig is referring to.
The value of navigation by judgement applies especially when the operating context is unpredictable and where performance is difficult to measure. Judgement refers to the scope that staff have to make their own decisions within the broad parameters set by the program design. This is in contrast to top-down management, which in the words …read more