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Time to give up on Community Driven Development?

04 December, 2013 : 13:27

The World Bank recently published the findings of its impact evaluation of Afghanistan’s largest development programme, the National Solidarity Programme. The findings are not hugely positive, so is it time to give up on Community Driven Development? 

Ivan Parks - Director of the Somalia Stability Fund
The National Solidarity Programme (NSP) is a flagship programme – both for development and conflict-reduction work – since it is localised, and makes great efforts to work through small local councils for every project it funds. It is often recognised as one of the better development initiatives in the country.  However, the findings of this rigorous analysis are not hugely positive in terms of impact on the communities in which the NSP operates:

  • NSP has no impact on whether villagers believe that the government should exercise jurisdiction over local crimes, set the school curriculum, issue ID cards, or collect income tax.  Similarly, the NSP has no impact on whether villagers prefer a centralized state or a weak federation, or identify primarily as Afghan or as a member of a specific ethnic group…
  • There is strong evidence that NSP improves perceptions of government, but the effects dissipate after project completion.  Similarly, during project implementation, NSP induces a strongly significant increase in the reported benevolence of a wide-range of government entities, but the impact mostly fades following project completion, with only weak positive impacts persisting for the President and central government officials...
  • NSP does not appear to affect the likelihood of villages suffering violent attacks, at least as reported by the villagers themselves, both during and after project implementation. There is also no evidence that NSP affects the ability of insurgent groups to expropriate harvests…

The NSP study is one of several similar pieces of high-quality research into similar Community Driven Development/Recovery (CDD/R) programmes in conflict-affected places over the last few years.  It is not an outlier – the others tell a similar, underwhelming story.  A report by Dr Elisabeth King published earlier this year looking at all CDD impact evaluations in conflict-affected contexts found the following:


  • According to rigorous impact evaluations from programmes in Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Aceh (Indonesia), Liberia and Sierra Leone, and interviews with practitioners, policymakers and academics, the record of CDD in conflict-affected contexts is mixed and, overall, disappointing in terms of reaching the ambitious goals set out.
  • As currently designed, implemented, and evaluated, CDD is better at generating the more tangible economic outcomes than it is at generating social changes related to governance and social cohesion, although even the economic effects are found in just a few studies. Moreover, CDD programming is better at producing outcomes directly associated with the project rather than broader changes in routine life.
  • CDD has been plagued by a panacea-type approach to goals and a generalised theory of change that is, as interviewees characterised it, “lofty”, “unrealistic”, “inherently flawed” and even “ridiculous”.

This doesn’t mean CDD goes in the bin, but it also doesn’t mean we should plough on with the same model regardless. One option is to adapt the programme (the NSP paper gives ideas on adaptations) and test those adaptations to try and find a model that does deliver some of the impact claimed for CDD. Another option is to lower our expectations for what the CDD approach can deliver – if we build a paper aeroplane, we should not be disappointed that it doesn’t fly us to the moon. Instead we should judge it on whether it can get to the other side of the room. For CDD this might mean re-focusing it as a mechanism for delivering stuff – clinic buildings, school buildings etc. – rather than as a mechanism for bringing about societal and governmental change.  We could then test if against other ways of delivering stuff – through the government or NGOs for example.

But to focus on CDD’s failings here, is to miss the point. The knowledge we now have is great news for CDD and for the communities that will benefit from it in the future. If those working on CDD can learn from the research and improve their programmes then it’s entirely possible that future impact evaluations of CDD will have much more positive findings.

In conflict-affected locations around the world (including Somalia where I work) donors are spending huge sums of money on local-level interventions that are intended to increase social capital, improve community cohesion, peacefully resolve disputes, reduce armed violence, strengthen local governance and so on. These are invariably complex, subtle problems that are not easily solved with the blunt instrument of cash. And there is very little high quality evidence for much of it.  CDD has blazed a trail here – it has shown that it is possible to be rigorous about evaluating impact of some of the most difficult programmes in some of the most challenging places. It is now up to those funding and implementing other programmes with related goals to subject themselves to the same rigour and scrutiny as that from which CDD is benefiting.

This is a guest post by Ivan Parks. Ivan is Director of the Somalia Stability Fund – a local governance and peacebuilding programme in Somalia.  For more info:   

@SLRCtweet  www.stabilityfund.so  @stability_fund  ivan.parks@stabilityfund.so

3 comments

Lucie Goulet
Very interesting, but I feel the temptation to throw the baby out with the bath water may not be the proper approach to interpreting these results. For one, I believe that social change in chronic conflict areas are not "all social changes" : there is a wide range of issues related to conflict prone relationships and power that are not a strong match with a "typical" community development environment that is not prone to intense or serious conflicts. To conclude that CDD is not extraordinarily successful in what is certainly that most challenging social context permeated by dysfunctionality, hatred, suspicion, deeply ingrained rejection and normalized violence is one thing, to conclude that therefore it is not successful in supporting social change is quite another step.
Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad
Promoting inclusive development towards improving the lot of the downtrodden is complex anywhere. And in conflict-ridden societies, the realities are much more complex and pregnant with pervading mistrusts and misgivings. Hence, one cannot quickly expect huge positive results from a development approach or activity, which is extraneously formulated with lofty goals - and that is more so in a conflict-afflicted society. Even if people are 'consulted' in the process of formulating donor-funded CDD or any other types of development projects/programmes, the framework within which that is done is often pre-conceived based on experiences elsewhere and under different circumstances. I don't know whether this comment is appropriate or not in the case of the particular Afghan CDD that is under discussion here. But it is my observation in Bangladesh and elsewhere that, more often than not, this is the way donor-funded development projects are designed and implemented. Undoubtedly, patience and commitment are needed in the prevailing situation in Afghanistan. From the outcomes of the World Bank evaluation of the Afghan CDD, as indicated in the blog, and the analyses that the evaluation may have generated, it should be possible to make some sense of the harsh socio-economic realities faced by the people and gauge some insights into their material and cultural aspirations as.well as their possible misgivings concerning the prevailing political environment. Based on the lessons and insights thus obtained, the goals, scope, and implementation mechanisms and modalities of CDD may be modified so that it may earn people's confidence. If that happens, results may improve dramatically. People are the means and end of development; and it is the local spaces where people live and work on lands, factories, and market places to create wealth. It is therefore essential to ensure conducive physical, social and political environment for the people's genuine empowerment that is critically important for sustainable and sustained development equitably benefitting all segments of the population. Therefore, people-centered or community-driven development projects/programmes should actually be promoted more and more, notwithstanding the failures encountered for a time as has been seen in the case of the Afghan CDD. On the contrary, action should be taken to convert failures into successes. If the development projects and programmes are formulated and implemented ensuring true participation of the concerned people with their confidence reposed in what is being done and the pathways followed, appreciable progress is sure to be achieved even in conflict-ridden societies. I would not therefore give up on the Afghan CDD, despite the negative findings relating to its impact thrown up by the World Bank evaluation, as outlined in the blog. I would rather look for ways of redesigning/modifying the CDD and the manner of its implementation on the basis of the insights that may be acquired from the evaluation, as indicated earlier, that may help mobilize the people's agency and garner their confidence in the community approaches to development.
Ivan Parks
Hi Lucy and Qazi I agree with you both of course. The root of the issue here is about the aid industry and the incentives that donors create and implementers respond to. Of course the notion that CDD solves every problem under the sun is a ridiculous one. But if donors accepted the modest changes that it might deliver they would get stuck on value for money. It reveals something obvious - these are not problems that lend themselves easily to solution through spending money, and if they did we would have an easy fix and a world free of conflict. So all we can do is what you suggest: be modest in our expectations, and learn from and adapt our programmes as we go.

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Welcome to SLRC's blog.

This blog will feature reflections from our team of researchers on the practicalities of actually conducting research in conflict-affected situations. We will also be posting guest blogs written by key researchers and practioners working on livelihoods, basic services and social protection in conflict-affected situations.