Policymakers, funding agencies, and implementing organizations are increasingly focused on identifying the most effective strategies for promoting development. They have embraced the use of randomized trials as a strategy for assessing the impact of interventions in health, education, agriculture, and a range of other sectors. Donors and NGOs have forged close partnerships with academic institutions to bring the most rigorous methodologies to bear to uncover strategies that work in reducing poverty in the developing world. Knowledge is slowly accumulating about the relative benefits and costs of a wide variety of interventions funded and implemented by donor agencies in the developing world.
Yet, despite the fact that bilateral and multilateral donors increasingly target significant resources toward support for "good governance" - through investments in the reform of bureaucracies and the strengthening of institutions that check the power of the executive branch, including legislatures, courts, and local governments - surprisingly little is known about the effectiveness of the resources directed at strengthening institutions of governance. And the rapid growth in randomized trials has largely sidestepped the governance sector, focusing instead on poverty relief efforts in sectors with outcomes that are more easily measured.
This convergence of interests - among donor agencies, implementers, and social scientists - represents a real opportunity. Donors want to know whether the valuable resources they are investing in promoting good governance are paying off. Social scientists are increasingly optimistic about the potential of experimental approaches to yield valuable new insights about the origins and impact of political institutions.
To take advantage of this synergy of interests in improving the efficacy of governance assistance, and the actual quality of governance programs, Jeremy Weinstein of CDDRL and the Political Science Department at Stanford has formed a research network linking social scientists undertaking Experiments on Governance and Politics (EGAP). EGAP brings together a small group (12-15) of leading social scientists applying experimental methods to the study of governance and politics. In addition, the group includes participants from major international organizations and development groups (such as the World Bank, UNDP, IRC) that are engaging in governance interventions in developing countries. These organizations are represented by individuals within them who are engaged with research, evaluation, and policy design.