DG TIG Week: Distinctive Factors in Evaluating Democratic Development by Denise Baer

Greetings from D.C.!  I am Denise Baer, a political scientist and professional evaluator who directs the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) evaluation unit.  I wanted to share some lessons about program evaluation of democratizations projects, as democratization is both challenging and distinctive compared to other areas of evaluation practice.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Development in emerging democracies is occurring at a different pace than was true for established democracies. This has tremendous implications — reminding us that a “one size fits all” approach will not work.  In today’s interconnected networked world, we ask developing countries to simultaneously establish new institutions and grant citizens full rights and opportunities to mobilize.  In Europe and the U.S. – by contrast — this happened over two centuries or more and in stovepiped political arenas and governance institutions.
  1. Majoritarian and consensus regime type systems differ – and many emerging democracies are hybrids that are not well-understood. This matters deeply for our ability to measure democratic governance.  Nearly all developing countries have a hybrid system with strong executives (like the U.S.) AND multiple parties in a parliamentary-style system (like Europe).These countries  have a high risk of presidents for life, kleptocratic economies, and corrupt parties that own businesses and chaotic party systems that undermine the rule of law so fundamental to democracy.
  1. Democratization is not linear. Following the limits of the “Arab Spring” and the “color revolutions,” the deeper question for measuring democracy goes beyond the mistaken idea that democracies can be arrayed on a single continuum of “democraticness.”  Despite the effort to rank democratic countries and the empirical correlation between high economic development and stable democracies, this lesson is evident in the 1) Journal of Democracy debate “Is Democracy in Decline?” ; 2) growth of “closing spaces,” and 3) in categorization of  “Democracy with Adjectives.”
  1. Most democratization work includes a focus on organizations, institutions, and systems (or ecosystems). While country level scorecards from Freedom House and Polity and others are useful, democracy promotion activities incorporate a different level of complexity.  System change is more than aggregating individual-level changes and this complexity received a rare and well-done deep dive in the International Republican Institute’s review of Why We Lost.
  1. Institutions of democracy are complex and often non-hierarchical. Democratic institutions are a different species of “animal.”   Complexity-aware evaluation is used where cause and effect relationships are ill-understood.  Those working in business and labor association, political party and legislative strengthening may all work on freedoms of association and speech, but we also know these are institutions with an internal life based in collegiality, voice and representation requiring mixed methods to fully understand and explain.  While standard indicators are valued as Pippa Norris notes, we need to work to develop new measures that create value.

In terms of evaluation practice, these are challenges rather than barriers which — in an era of closing spaces – makes getting to “impact” more important than ever.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Democracy & Governance TIG Week with our colleagues in the Democracy & Governance Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our DG TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.



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