Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Poster Paper: The Effects of Social Networks in Rural Development Interventions: Case Studies in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Thursday, November 12, 2015
Riverfront South/Central (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Elsa T. Khwaja, George Mason University
The year 2015 has been a critical year of reflection for international development. Now ten years since the OECD Paris Declaration of Aid-Effectiveness, a reconceptualization of the established core principles, such as “ownership” and “mutual accountability,” is warranted. Similarly, with the newly derived Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), replacing the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), planning and implementation of development programs post-2015 are underway. The SDGs offer a new framework for measuring development progress towards more attainable objectives, emphasizing social inclusion, environmental sustainability, and economic development (Sachs, 2015). Though great strides have been achieved, the debate continues on the relevance of the SDGs and the overall effectiveness of external development assistance programs.

This study aims to contribute to the “social inclusion” factor of the SDG framework, discussing the relationships among key players in aid networks as significant indicators of aid-impact. Assessing how transactions diffuse and how influence and power are embedded within development intervention social structures can provide crucial insights about their outcomes. Greater social complexity is evident in fragile and conflict-affected regions like Afghanistan and Pakistan. Establishing development programs based on their unique provincial socio-cultural contexts and collective involvement of local partners has been a challenging venture.

Applying an integrated conceptual framework of social capital and social network analysis (SNA), this paper illustrates the inter-organizational relationships of two prominent rural development interventions: The Afghanistan National Solidarity Program and Pakistan’s Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) Rural Livelihoods and Community Infrastructure Program. Both programs aim to build social capital, allowing for alternative evaluation methods of impact, unique to this objective. This exploratory analysis, the first phase of a more elaborate anticipated research design, examines whether the whole-network organizational social structure fulfills the underlying principle behind the Community Driven Development (CDD) initiative, where local beneficiaries assume management of the decisions, resource allocation, and overall planning of their projects.

SNA is conducted based on the primary transactions within the interventions, revealing concentrations of power, influence, dependency and social cohesion. The resulting visualizations and network metrics depict core-peripheral social structures, hierarchical clustering, high centralization scores, and low measures of cohesion. This supports conclusions from the aid-effectiveness literature implying that the inherent development program organizational social structure may inhibit local actors from acquiring the necessary influence and power to ensure sustainable institutional outcomes. Sustainability through inclusive and participatory development initiatives, hence, requires rethinking the relational orientation of aid-interventions.

Analyzing the non-linear, interdependent nature of exchanges among heterogeneous actors allows for a distinct approach to impact evaluations throughout the duration of programs and upon closeout, an emerging phenomenon and paradigm shift from traditional development studies. As both programs conclude, with possibilities of expansion post-2015, this analysis will add value to the ‘lessons-learned’ element of their impact evaluations, potentially translatable to similar regional and international contexts. Understanding how local social structures operate will advance the concentration of efforts on the development of local institutions and leaders within civil society, as a central component to the democratic state-building agenda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.