Over the past 25 years, the United States has made support for the spread of democracy to other nations an increasingly important element of its national security policy. Many other multilateral agencies, countries, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) also are involved in providing democracy assistance. These efforts have created a growing demand to find the most effective means to assist in building and strengthening democratic governance under varied conditions.
Within the U.S. government the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has principal responsibility for providing democracy assistance. Since 1990, USAID has supported democracy and governance (DG) programs in approximately 120 countries and territories, spending an estimated total of $8.47 billion (in constant 2000 U.S. dollars) between 1990 and 2005. The request for DG programs for fiscal year 2008 was $1.45 billion, which includes some small programs in the U.S. Department of State.
Despite these substantial expenditures, our understanding of the actual impacts of USAID DG assistance on progress toward democracy remains limited—and is the subject of much current debate in the policy and scholarly communities. Admittedly, the realities of democracy programming are complicated, given the emphasis on timely responses in politically sensitive environments and flexibility in implementation to account for fluid political circumstances. These realities pose particular challenges for the evaluation of democracy assistance programs. Nonetheless, USAID seeks to find ways to attempt to determine which programs, in which countries, are having the greatest impact in supporting democratic institutions and behaviors and how those effects unfold. To do otherwise would risk making poor use of scarce funds and to remain uncertain about the effectiveness of an important national policy.