Donors push “community driven development” programs largely to strengthen local institutional capacity, democracy, and inclusiveness. (Sometimes overlooking the fact that these three goals are not necessarily in harmony.)
It’s nice to see these claims being put to ambitious test. Casey, Glennerster and Miguel evaluate one such CDD program in Sierra Leone:
We find positive impacts on the establishment of local development committees, local public goods provision, links between communities and local government officials, household economic welfare, and village-level market activity. However, we do not find any program impacts on community social norms, the role of women and youths in local affairs, more egalitarian decision making or the capacity for collective action beyond the immediate project sphere.
Overall, these findings suggest that community driven development programs and related donor projects may leave communities materially better off but may be less effective in fundamentally transforming local institutions or power dynamics.
This matches my intuition. The CDD-can-change-local-politics view has always struck me as the victory of rhetoric over reality, with a naive view of institutional and political change. There are perfectly good grounds for CDD programs in terms of economic impacts and fairness, plus (the possibility of) better decision-making.
There’s a dozen or more CDD evaluations completed or underway, including an upcoming book from Mansuri and Rao (see their 2004 critical review here). I don’t follow these debates closely enough to know the emerging conclusions. Reader insights welcome.