The last word in the Community Driven Development wonkwar? Scott Guggenheim responds to Howard White and Radhika Menon

The discussion on Community Driven Development (CDD) has been passionate, at times angry, and has surfaced some important common ground as well as differences. Here Scott Guggenheim (right) responds to yesterday’s post, in what he hopes is the final exchange (people can always continue in the comments section). To recap for those who are arriving new to this, we’ve had 4 posts, including this one, which have generated over 20 comments, many extensive and very well informed. Taken together, I think they make up a good resource on the role, strengths and weaknesses of CDD:

My summary of a ‘bombshell’ of a critical ‘meta-evaluation’ of CDD by 3iE

A response from CDD guru Scott Guggenheim

A response to Scott from Howard White and Radhika Menon

Over to Scott:

‘So the bombshell has turned into a bombsqueak. Howard and co. now confirm that CDD does, in fact, build large amounts of useful, village-level productive infrastructure like clean water, market roads, and irrigation canals.

I wish I could be more conciliatory here – in fact I’d promised Duncan that I would be nice and constructive in a closing comment if given the soapbox – but while I’m glad to see the climbdown, I still don’t buy it. Either so many brilliant poverty specialists who read the 3ie paper mistakenly thought that 3ie had devastated CDD, or else they all somehow believe that potable water, irrigation, and market roads are no longer needed in poor and isolated communities. I prefer the read of a climbdown to thinking that all of those readers need new eyeglass prescriptions. Even in 3ie’s latest comments about a lack of comparator evidence to show cost effectiveness, they again leave out the studies from the very large programs in Afghanistan, Indonesia, Nepal, and the Philippines that show precisely that.

Let’s turn now to the more interesting question of what gives poor communities more voice in development. First, except for one $2.5m project in Sierra Leone that I’ve spent nearly a decade trying to convince my friend Rachel Glennester was actually a not very well thought through outlier, to the best of my knowledge, no CDD project has had the objective of building new social capital.  As Casey (2017) points out, mean levels of trust in control communities were already high:  95% in Sierra Leone; 93% in DRC and 85% in Afghanistan.

CDD’s claim is that we can use this existing social capital to facilitate and benefit from collective action within a community if (and only if) we can change the approach that state agencies use to partner with them. It sounds like a modest goal, but when this CDD work started in the 1990s, using local knowledge and delegating decision-making and resources to communities was about as popular in large development agencies as was farting in church. And, in fact, for all of the rhetoric today, they still don’t do very much of it – the general model remains, at best, one of setting up various flavors of ventriloquized “user groups” without any serious attention to the rules or processes for ensuring accountability, representativeness, or inclusion.

But while 3ie is “staggered” to find no impact on something that CDD has neither claimed nor disputed, our knowledge of what forms of collective action can give serious voice in the state-community encounter is still quite limited. That’s all the more reason to not discard the few tools that we have to expand that knowledge. I’m glad to see that 3ie now thinks that significantly increasing women’s attendance in village and subdistrict council meetings is indeed a worthy governance achievement, but their dissemination note for this study still says “CDD has no impact on social cohesion or governance.” And, in general, I would have thought that more local control and accountability over spending is a lot – not all, but a lot – of what any metric of changes to local governance would be measuring.

Let’s see if we can close with some sort of consensus. I agree with Howard and Radhika that at this point, evaluations of what works where and why are what is most important, rather than sweeping ‘CDD is good or bad’ claims. In my first comment I tried to explain why issues such as external validity, measurement intervals, and knowing your context variables are so important for this purpose, but for these broader issues of voice and power, I think we face a growing trade-off between increasingly precise measurements of increasingly less interesting questions about individual projects when we should be teasing out the links and interactions across different types of social action.

The most interesting work in CDD world these days is looking at complementarities between CDD and household cash transfers (Indonesia, Philippines); evolving the CDD platform into a whole of government frontline service delivery system (Afghanistan, India, Indonesia, Morocco), and coupling community development with better market access and returns for poor people (Nepal, Sri Lanka, India).  Dewi Susanti and her team in Indonesia are currently conducting a large scale RCT that is testing whether more community control over teacher’s benefits can make a dent in teacher’s high absentee rates, the kind of evaluation that, if true, would be immensely beneficial to multiple countries, just as India’s fascinating examples of CDD projects investing CDD funds to train likely to migrate rural youth in urban skills is just begging for analysis and transfer.

My own favorite – mostly because I recently visited them –  and still unmeasured example, was seeing how the activists from Indonesia’s female headed household empowerment NGO (PEKKA) used the transparency requirements of the CDD program to sponsor public debates between political candidates vying to become district heads over who would be matching those funds to help widows and other poor women.

To conclude, let’s be very careful about throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Any approach that reaches poor, neglected communities with large amounts of decent quality, pro-poor, cost-effective, self-targeting, economically productive assets should already receive a tick mark in the “plus” column. That all project models show variance in their quality is a truism, not an indictment, one which mostly puts the burden onto project owners to show that they can learn and improve. The way forward is to keep pushing boundaries, show a sufficient number of well-monitored and explained failures to prove that nobody’s getting complacent, and to keep using multiple types of analyses to cross-check and validate hypotheses.’

Last word? Let’s see…..

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3 Responses to “The last word in the Community Driven Development wonkwar? Scott Guggenheim responds to Howard White and Radhika Menon”
  1. I think there is a real disconnect in this conversation. There is just no question that CDD, or variants of it, have been used to try to generate social capital instead of trying to make use of what is there. This is what lots of CDR programs set out to do. It is possible that this kind of variant (a) is less defensible and (b) has been studied more, at least via RCTs, and this leads to the babies/bathwater risk. No point I think denying that these variants exist and better to clarify that the original model does not depend upon achieving local social transformations, the spirit is if anything the opposite.

    More on this here:

    • Duncan Green

      Thanks Macartan, Scott Guggenheim sent this reply by email and asked me to post it for him:
      ‘I like this, mostly. Just to be clear on a couple of points. Macartan is right that there is – or at least should be – a general consensus that CDD delivers lots of useful infrastructure to poor communities. However, the reaction of the Twitterati to the 3ie evaluation wasn’t that at all, and 3ie did absolutely nothing to correct those mis-readings of their study until their methodology was criticized. So let’s all agree on that point now and move on. CDD builds useful things for poor people.

      Second, I stand corrected that some CDD projects have made claims about building social capital that were not born out by the subsequent evidence. They shouldn’t have. On the other hand, it doesn’t change the basic point that the 3ie review then should have limited its sample to projects that actually did claim to be doing this, not the ones that didn’t. (all this back and forth also turned up a growing body of evidence, coming mostly from South Asia, showing that there isan increase in social capital (INSERT 4 India reviews), none of which was cited by 3ie). Still, we’re all more or less on the same page here.

      Third, Macartan’s distinction between “KDP“ types of national community programs and community development in post-conflict environments is intriguing and worth pursuing further. I’m somewhat less persuaded by the evidence that he cites – even though the evaluation was very solid methodologically, we shouldn’t forget that the BRA-KDP was one grant given one time over just one year. NSP was also a one-shot grant given over 12 years, which sets it apart from the annual KDP type of program. As with many of these evaluations, I think it would be a good practice to first see if the projects they are evaluating meet some basic first pre-conditions to justify the hypotheses. In a nutshell, these would be (i) are they repeater programs rather than one-offs; (ii) did villagers have real information and choice; (iii) were the amounts provided more than trivial; and (iv) was the evaluation done after a sufficiently reasonable interval period to pick up sociocultural effects. Since we’re all dealing with an amazingly small sample here, my primary point remains that these design differences matter an awful lot.

      Fourth, Macartan is right that there’s never been a truly rigorous, academic-level comparison of CDD versus alternatives. It’s a lot harder to do than people think since no local government would be thrilled by the idea of random assignments and, for the CDR cases, donors will not disclose their true delivery costs. Side by side cost-benefit comparisons are also difficult because there can be physical reasons for cost differences (i.e. soil geology) that have nothing to do with the style of delivery. The best we could do in the original KDP was to get local government public works departments to re-cost the actual CDD infrastructure designs (their estimates were 30-50% higher than what communities actually spent).

      However, there are a lot of indirect metrics that all point in the same direction: significantly more outputs per dollar spent, fewer levels of financial intermediation (so that even if all corruption rates were the same, there are simply fewer opportunities), and of course the bottom line fact that the reason why rates of return and community satisfaction levels are usually so high is because the CDD program will be one of the first programs to build any infrastructure at all. Hence my prickliness at people’s dismissive reaction – the last thing we need after decades of neglect of these poor people is for some twitter based misreadings of the 3ie report to condemn them to again getting nothing for a few more decades while people fuss and fiddle in international brainstorming workshops for the next big thing. But if DFID, 3ie or anyone else wants to carry out a serious cost-benefit study of this sort, count me in! It’s long overdue, especially for the post-conflict and natural disaster areas where CDD may or may not be offering a tool to complement standard issue DDR and humanitarian aid.

      And finally, let me again repeat that if the question at hand is about social cohesion and cultural change, then the right unit of analysis is never going to be some three year CDD or any other foreign funded development project. That’s just not how large-scale significant change happens. However, there can be interactions. The key point that keeps getting dropped in these CDD evaluations is that CDD is not about communities. It is about how states engage citizens. CDD is one tool for broadening that engagement but by itself it cannot change much, nor should it. On the other hand……’

  2. Arnaldo Pellini

    Years ago, when I started to work in development, I worked in a German and Cambodia-funded community based rural development programme in central Cambodia. It had an large rural infrastructure component with similarities to a CDD programme. It also had other components to support and experimentation in agriculture and with livestock and working with existing community based group to find ways to involve them in the planning of small infrastructures as well as using the existing social capital and norms to develop opportunities to be involved and contribute with their knowledge to local development planning processes. To me it was a nice example of a programme addressing different interlinked problems and trying to link local governments and communities. Towards the end of the programme, in 2005, the team leader said that those types of programmes were going ‘out of fashion’ because of their complexity and difficulty in demonstrating results in different (but interlinked) areas. Did that happen? The discussion here in the blog reminded me of that programme and how it tried to bring together the work with with people in poor and remote communities and provide them with essential infrastructures and, at the same time, work with and strengthen social capital and social development and public services. The two go hand in hand. CDD programmes address specific problems in a system, they cannot solve them all. As every development programme, they are policy experiments (Dennis Rondinelli)