CDD: What is it good for?

There has been a rich discussion going on on blogs and Twitter around evaluations of CDD following the release of a report by 3ie. See here especially:

The takeaways are still a bit confusing I think.

My read is that CDD started off as an approach to use existing social capital to deliver economic benefits more effectively, meaning better choices, perhaps better monitoring, and transfer of the decision-making power to the people for whom the decisions mattered most. That is still what CDD often is.  Call it the KDP model. Somewhere along the way an idea was appended that in fact CDD could generate social capital. This version of the CDD model gained currency and influenced the design of many programs, especially in post conflict settings. Call that the CDR variant. There are certainly others. The CDR variant can differ from the KDP model not just in its goals but in its allocation of funding away from projects and towards activities intended to build social capital. In practice CDR variants are often more short term and less institutionalized. In a way they are the antithesis of the original idea since instead of using existing capital you end up trying to replace it.

The idea that local control produces better outcomes likely resonates widely. The idea that short term exposure to CDD alters social capital and local institutions seems a much harder proposition. The evidence on CDDs, I think, largely supports this view. In other words, the KDP model might work well for its purposes; the CDR model seems not to work for its social goals.

I think this conclusion has not come out clearly enough in the recent discussion. The discussion has been confused a bit by a denial that CDD has had these social capital ambitions in the first place and perhaps a concern that the KDP model is under attack when the CDR version is challenged.

In making sense of this discussion I think five points are worth emphasizing:

  1. Point 1: Lots of CDD programs have had building social capital as a goal.
  2. Point 2. There is not that much squabbling among the experts and most reviews seem to agree with the proposition that CDD can be good for getting stuff to people but not good for changing social structures.
  3. Point 3: This bottom line is important because it matters for fund allocations.
  4. Point 4. This whole conversation is muddied by the diversity of CDD programs and suggests we are using the wrong unit of analysis for studying impact.
  5. Point 5. Although there are now multiple trials of CDR versus nothing, the more fundamental proposition that community driven development performs better than alternatives has still not been as well tested.

In detail:

Point 1: Lots of CDD programs have had building social capital as a goal.

  • 3ie claim at the top of their report “CDD programme objectives have evolved over time. The programmes in the early 1990s had more of an emphasis on poverty reduction and infrastructure building; the programmes in the late 1990s and 2000s have focused on decentralisation and improving local governance and social cohesion.”
  • Guggenheim claims “except for one $2.5m project in Sierra Leone that I’ve spent nearly a decade trying to convince my friend Rachel Glennerster 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.”

But, contrary to Guggenheim’s claim, multiple programs have had new social capital as an explicit goal (though it is true I think that in some cases, research has focused on social capital related outcomes even though these were not explicit goals of the programs studied)

I give lots of references to back up this claim below.

Point 2. There is not that much squabbling among the experts and most reviews seem to agree with the proposition that CDD can be good for getting stuff to people but not good for changing social structures.

Guggenheim writes: “I can tell you that one reason why people resist some of this huge push for evidence-based policy is that there is so much constant squabbling by the specialists about what the evidence actually is.”

But in my read this is an area where there is a fairly broad consensus.  It is one of few areas in the political economy of development where there has been an accumulation of RCTs and multiple reviews. Of course there are differences between the reviews but I think these agree on a core bottom line.  A reflection piece by Sheree Bennett and Alyoscia D’Onofrio (here) describes the issues around differences in priorities over “Getting stuff to people or changing how people do things.” The reviews and studies suggest that CDD might be pretty good at the former and not very good at the latter.

Wong writes: “nine projects reviewed in this study reported on income poverty impacts as part of their evaluations. Out of the nine, seven had statistically significant positive impacts on household living standards and welfare….Based on the limited evidence to date, most projects have no impact on social capital, or at best mixed impacts. There is very little evidence of social capital spillover effects. For local governance, the evidence is more positive, however also mixed.”

Broadly this is also the conclusion in two other very informative reviews:

This is also what I take as an overall conclusion of the 3IE review.

Rachel Glennerster also provided a nice account of discussions on these themes following a World Bank “smackdown” in 2013. “Team IE” seemed in agreement with the goal of using CDD to “get goods on the ground.”

This conclusion resonates with most of what I have seen also.[1]

Point 3: This bottom line is important because it matters for fund allocations.

There are a lot of nuances around what sort of economic benefits arise in what sectors and so on or around what sort of social impacts have been assessed where. But still, the headline conclusion that CDD may be effective for the hardware but not the software (to use Casey et al’s terms) is important because a belief that these social benefits derive from CDD can lead to an allocation of funds away from project components that work to those that do not.

Point 4. This whole conversation is muddied by the diversity of CDD programs and suggests we are using the wrong unit of analysis for studying impact.

The term CDD gets used quite loosely; some of the interventions studied self-describe as CDR, some as participatory development and so on.  Many of the programs are extremely complex with many diverse components. Short term interventions that are not integrated with administrative structures get lumped into longer term institutionalized mechanisms. Inferring failure of the latter from weakness of the first is not helpful. If the packets are so heterogeneous then conclusions  might be more usefully stated in terms of the effects of program components and the interactions between them, when these can be isolated (which unfortunately is not possible in most existing studies).

Point 5. Although there are now multiple trials of CDD versus nothing, the more fundamental proposition that community driven development performs better than alternatives has still not been as well tested.

The 3ie report says it quite clearly “it is not clear  if CDD programmes are a more cost-effective delivery mechanism, especially compared with  local government.” Guggenheim writes  “to be constructive and useful, the most useful evaluation would have been to compare CDD programs against the next best alternative,” though he did not feel there is a need for an RCT to show it. Glennerster also made the point here. Many of the studies that exist compare a CDD disbursement mechanism coupled with often costly social interventions to a control condition rather than comparing the participatory disbursement mechanisms itself to a viable alternative.




Details on Point 1

I am surprised by Guggenheim’s claim that CDD programs have not aimed at generating social capital. It is possible (and in some ways reasonable) that he excludes CDR programs from his accounting though these are very often considered part of the CDD family.

I think there are some instances where researchers have studied the social impacts of CDD programs even if these were not the primary goals of the project.[2]  In these cases the hypotheses examined appear largely inspired by the broader literature, which is reasonable but perhaps asking a lot of the programs.

King and Samii provide the following useful summary of four programs, with variations of social capital appearing regularly (social cohesion, local governance, collective action capacity).


Afghanistan “The key objective of NSP is to build, strengthen, and maintain Community Development Councils (CDCs) as effective institutions for local governance and social-economic development” (Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, n.d.).
Beath et al. add that the program “explicitly mentions promoting gender equality as one of the program’s main goals” (Beath et al., 2012b, p. 6).
DRC “To improve the stability and quality of life for communities in eastern DRC through structured, participatory, and inclusive collective action. By establishing and strengthening participatory local governance committees [the program aims…] to improve the understanding and practice of democratic governance, improve citizens’ relationships with local government, and improve social cohesion and thereby communities’ ability to resolve conflict peacefully. The conduit to achieve these purposes will be village- and community-level projects that themselves will contribute to socio-economic rehabilitation as DRC moves into a post-conflict and development period” (Humphreys et al., 2012, p. 11).
“While people’s vision of democracy’s dividends [in anticipation of Congolese elections] is in all probability unrealistic in time and scope, it is nevertheless vital that they receive tangible returns for their enduring tolerance. It is thus crucial that the post-election period deliver peace dividends…” (International Rescue Committee, 2006a, p. 11).
Liberia “…the project aims to improve material welfare, build institutions and promote community cohesion by bringing together all actors within the community, including local government, civil society and private sector to identify priority problems/needs and to develop community action plans for implementation.” (International Rescue Committee, 2006b, p. 1).
“This model was adopted, in part, as a strategy for using local leadership to quickly generate material improvements in people’s lives. Given the state of the government after fifteen years of civil war communities could plausibly also move more quickly than government to deliver a tangible peace dividend” (Fearon et al., 2008, pp. 2–3).
Sierra Leone “Through intensive, long term facilitation, CDD aims to strengthen local institutions, make them more democratic and inclusive of marginalized groups, and enhance the capacity of communities to engage in collective action” (Casey et al., 2011c, p. 1).


There are others too.


  • The BRA-KDP project in Aceh BRA‐KDP (US$ 21.7 million, 1,700 conflict‐affected villages) “aimed to deliver quick assistance to conflict‐affected villagers to improve their material wellbeing in the short‐term. In addition, it sought to promote social cohesion, to strengthen village‐level decision‐making institutions, and to cultivate greater faith in governmental institutions in the aftermath of the conflict” (source)
  • Labonne and Chase: who in 2010 engage with “One of the claims about CDD approaches is that they enhance community collective action.”) In the program they examine “Community facilitators are the frontline staff working directly with KALAHI-CIDSS communities. They are expected to mobilize their assigned communities, build the latter’s capacity for collective action…” (source)
  • Serena Cocciolo has a series of papers looking at these social outcomes in Bangladesh


These echo a general statement of the goals of CDR as envisioned by IRC




[1] A side note on two seeming outliers. A Liberia study I worked on seems to contradict this conclusion. For the nuance however the full study clarifies that the positive effects we find are only inside mixed groups constructed for measurement purposes; we have doubts that these would be the groups in fact tasked to resolve collective action problems in a less controlled setting, of the form studied in Congo. The Congo study (which I was also a researcher on) seems to speak against the positive economic conclusions; but a careful read of that study makes clear that it focused specifically on social components and was timed for before major investments were made. For these reasons these studies do not, I think, speak against this broader conclusion.


[2] For instance:

  • Alexandra Adveenko and Michael Gilligan have an interesting paper on “International Interventions to Build Social Capital: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Sudan.” It is not obvious from the paper or the program documentation that this was an aim however: (“The objective of the Project is to meet urgent community-driven recovery and development needs in the war-affected and underdeveloped areas of North Sudan including the Three Areas by providing social and economic services and infrastructure.” here and here
  • Tu Chi Nguyen and Matthias Rieger have an interesting paper on “Community-driven Development and Social Capital: Evidence from Morocco” where building social capital was not obviously an aim of the program, at least from the description they give here.