Burnell: Impact Evaluation for Autocracy Promotion?

Aug. 20, 2010, 2:25 p.m.

Writing in the University of Warwick's Journal of Law, Peter Burnell uses the debate surrounding Canada's potential publicly-funded Centre for Advancing Democracy, to explore impact evaluation for autocracy promotion.  Much of the original research into the effectiveness of democracy assistance, he argues, was conducted in an environment where such programs went largely unchallenged by other countries.  With the spread of autocracy promotion, however, such efforts need to be reevaluated.  Democracy assistance programs need to be measured against the success of their autocratic rivals. Burnell acknowledges some of the major barriers to such assessments happening.   Financial and time constraints mean DG practitioners are often reluctant to engage in impact evaluation for democracy assistance programs.  It would seem to be asking a lot, therefore, to take on the additional burden of assessing the competition's programs as well.  Furthermore, conducting such assessments would be challenging.  Impact evaluation for DG programs is in itself problematic, as many indicators are difficult to quantify.   These problems would only be more prevalent in assessing autocracy promotion, as the inherently nontransparent nature of such programs would make data collection unreliable. Burnell explores a variety of issues related to developing a meaningful strategy of such assessments, but concludes that the inherent difficulties in such an exercise should not prevent donor agencies from undertaking the challenge.

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