Poster Paper: Public Participation within Foreign Aid: Unpacking and Predicting Government Agency Efforts to Engage in "Participatory Development"

Thursday, November 8, 2018
Exhibit Hall C - Exhibit Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Amy Beck Harris, University of Washington

Over the past 10 years, the U.S. government has spent approximately $10-15 billion per year on bilateral foreign aid (Tarnoff et al, 2016), fueling long-standing debates about the most effective and appropriate approach to delivering aid. The most recent approach sweeping the academic and practitioner communities can be understood as public participation within the aid delivery process -- engaging aid beneficiaries in decision-making and/or implementation of the aid activities that affect them, termed participatory development among practitioners (Atwood 1993, Mansuri et al 2013, Cornwall 2008, Cooke et al 2002).

Yet, we have a limited understanding, both theoretically and empirically, about how this form of public participation works: to what extent does it occur within foreign aid delivery? What types of participation occur? Importantly, we are also missing an understanding of predictors of participation: What predicts its occurrence? What predicts the type of public participation at the project level? This project draws on policy implementation literature (Arnstein 1969, Farrington et al 1993, Fung 2004, Nabatchi et al 2014, Meier & O’Toole 2006, Brown et al 2010, Chun & Rainey 2005, Gibson & Ostrom 2005, Kelman 2002, Kim et al 2012, Lipsky 2010, Amirkhanyan et al 2010, etc.) and international development literature (Mansuri et al 2013, Mosse 2005, Cleaver 1999, Korten 1980, Cornwall 2008, Martens 2002, etc.) to develop a set of testable hypotheses to answer these questions.

I develop an original dataset of 267 U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) project contract solicitation documents that includes all stand-alone USAID contracts from 2008-2016. The dataset measures whether USAID mandates public participation at the contractual level, as well as how much participation is required, and a series of characteristics about the type of participation activities.

Results point to two types of participation: 1. Participation by local governments within projects that build local government capacity to successfully make decisions and implement policy. These cases rely on local governments to participate via consultation and the setting of priorities, and employ a co-production model of project implementation. 2. Participation with non-governmental actors who design and implement small-scale activities. This type of participation is achieved by relying on non-governmental actors to operationalize project goals and design specific activities to accomplish these goals which are then carried out via small grants.

These two approaches to participation represent two types of toolkits used by USAID to accomplish on-the-ground decision-making within foreign aid policy implementation. While participation of non-governmental actors within foreign aid is the subject of a limited number of case studies, the literature ignores local government-as-beneficiary participation within foreign aid. We are also missing a theoretical understanding of beneficiary participation within the broader foreign aid delivery chain - in particular, the conditions under which participation occurs. This study shows that the incidence of participation with local governments is explained by a set of variables from implementation literature including uncertainty, trust, and local capacity. However, the incidence of participation with non-government actors is not explained by any traditional implementation of international development variables.