A bombshell Evaluation of Community Driven Development

June 11, 2018

     By Duncan Green     

Blimey. Just read a bombshell of a working paper assessing the evidence for impact of Community-Driven Development (CDD) programmes. It’s pretty devastating. But make sure you read the comments below , with some arguments for and against by some of the biggest names on the issue.

In CDD, community members are in charge of identifying, implementing and maintaining externally funded development projects. CDD programmes have been implemented in low- and middle-income countries to fund the building or rehabilitation of schools, water supply and sanitation systems, health facilities, roads, and other kinds of public infrastructure.

The archetype is Indonesia’s World Bank financed Kecamatan Development Project, launched in 1998, the brainchild of charismatic anthropologist Scott Guggenheim, who is currently working in Afghanistan, as senior advisor to President Ashraf Ghani.

The evaluation is by the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3IE), which summarizes CDD’s evolution thus:

‘Over the last three decades, they have evolved from being a response to mitigate the social cost of economic structural adjustment to becoming an alternative delivery mechanism for social services that link directly with communities. In addition, since the 2000s, there has been more emphasis on using CDD programmes for building social cohesion, increasing decentralisation and improving governance.’

3IE cast its baleful eye over the evidence from 25 impact evaluations, covering 23 CDD programmes in 21 low- and middle-income countries and concluded.

  • CDD programmes have no impact on social cohesion or governance.
  • Many community members may hear about CDD programmes but not many attend meetings.
  • Few people speak at the meeting and fewer still participate in decision-making.
  • Women are only half as likely as men to be aware of CDD programmes and even less likely to attend or speak at community meetings.
  • CDD programmes have made a substantial contribution to improving the quantity of small-scale infrastructure.
  • They have a weak effect on health outcomes and mostly insignificant effects on education and other welfare outcomes.
  • There is impact on improved water supply leading to time savings.

Okaaay. Digging into the findings, they conclude that part of the problem is the focus on building stuff. ‘Investments in water-related infrastructure have reduced the time required for collecting water. These programmes slightly improve health- and water-related outcomes, but not education outcomes. Their lack of impact on higher-order outcomes can be explained by the focus on infrastructure.’

If you ask meetings dominated by men what they need, they will usually say ‘a road’ or other piece of infrastructure, so perhaps this isn’t that surprising.

The analysis also found that ‘This approach has been successful in achieving greater resource allocation to poorer areas, although not always to the poorest communities in those areas.’ That also could reflect the dangers of treating ‘the community’ as a single entity, rather than understanding it as a complex system of power in which some groups dominate others (men v women, less poor v more poor, able bodied v disabled).

Finally, the paper worries about the sustainability issues, because it finds that CDD projects often set up parallel systems to deliver the water, sanitation, roads, housing or whatever ‘the community’ decides on, but ‘These parallel structures may alienate community leaders. The function of these governance structures is also often not clear once the community projects end.’

Without knowing much about it, I’d always vaguely thought that CDD must be a Good Thing. On the basis of this paper, I probably have to revise that opinion, but what do any CDD experts reading this post think?

June 11, 2018
Duncan Green