Panel Paper: Delegation of Decision-Making Power to Foreign Aid Beneficiaries: Measuring Donor Intention for Foreign Aid Contracts

Saturday, November 4, 2017
Atlanta (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Amy Beck Harris, University of Washington

Local-level beneficiary decision-making within the context of foreign aid projects has been presented as a more effective and ethically appropriate approach to development, and has received significant support from US aid agencies and other foreign aid donors (Atwood 1993, World Bank 1996, Mosse 2005, Biggs et al 2003, Cleaver 1999, Korten 1980, Cornwall 2008, Corneille et al 2004). Yet, we know very little empirically about the extent to which donors delegate decision-making power to beneficiaries. Further, the literature on foreign aid delivery structures describes a system that significantly constrains beneficiary decision-making power and limits flexibility of action on the ground (Martens 2002, Gibson et al 2005, Korten 1980, Biggs & Smith 2003, Cleaver 1999).

By conceptualizing of this delegation of decision-making power as a form of discretion, we can gain theoretical traction from public management literatures such as Street Level Bureaucracy, Contracting, and Collaborative Governance (For example: Maynard-Moody & Musheno 1990, Meier & O’Toole 2006, Meyers & Vorsanger 2007, Davis et al 2016, Brown et al 2006, Brown et al 2010, Fernandez 2007, Kelman 2002, Kim et al 2012, Lipsky 2010, May et al 2009, Donahue & Zeckhauser 2011, Nabatchi et al 2014, Nabatchi et al 2003, Amirkhanyan et al 2010, VanSlyke 2006). These literatures can help us explain the appearance and variation of this discretion to beneficiaries within foreign aid, as well as factors that predict variation. In particular, literature on delegation of decision-making within policy implementation, and the formal relationships and accountability mechanisms between actors in the implementation chain, can be wielded in the context of participatory development – in which beneficiaries of foreign aid are granted some degree of decision-making power.

This project uses contract solicitation documents (ex: RFPs, RFAs) to develop a new dataset of all US bilateral foreign aid projects funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development from 2008-2016 to understand the extent to which donors allocate beneficiary decision-making at the contractual level. The project then tests a set of predictive factors that are theorized by Street Level Bureaucracy, Contracting and Collaborative Governance literatures to predict variation in donor-allocated discretion. I test a set of existing hypotheses from the above literatures in this new context, including: increases in goal ambiguity and strength of donor/recipient relationship (at varying levels) will increase the degree of discretion granted to foreign aid beneficiaries (Chun & Rainey 2005, Kelman 2002, Kim et al 2012, Lipsky 2010, May et al 2009, Donahue & Zeckhauser 2011, Amirkhanyan et al 2010, Sclar 2000, VanSlyke 2006). I further expect that pre-existing local capacity, the technical sector of the aid work, and the duration of the projects will impact the amount of discretion allocated to beneficiaries (World Bank 1996, Mansuri et al 2013).

The paper will test the applicability of the specified public administration theories in a new context, and advance development management literature by introducing key concepts and hypotheses from public administration. Further, this paper will yield critical insights for public managers of foreign aid and foreign aid implementers.