Navigating by judgment to achieve development impact — Dan Honig

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In an excellent book on how aid agencies manage foreign aid projects, Dan Honig argues that tight top-down controls and a focus on target-setting and metrics often lead aid projects astray.

If one navigates from the top, one may achieve more management control, more oversight, and more standardized behavior. But this may be at the cost of flexibility and adaptability. By contrast, if one empowers those closest to the ground, and focuses on what field agents can see and learn, we may apply so-called “soft information” that will in turn allow for more flexibility.

Managing large organizations is not easy. And most politicians and bureaucrats struggle to find the right balance between when to control and when to let go. In the book Navigation by Judgment: Why and When Top-Down Control of Foreign Aid Doesn't Work, Dan Honig argues that a misplaced sense of what it means to “succeed” encourages many aid agencies to get the balance wrong.

Dan Honig is an assistant professor of international development at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). He is currently a visiting fellow at Leiden University’s Institute of Political Science, and a non-resident fellow at the Center for Global Development. He was previously special assistant, then advisor, to successive Ministers of Finance in Liberia and ran a local nonprofit in East Timor focused on helping post-conflict youth realize the power of their own ideas.

Dan is busy completing his next book on “Mission-Driven Bureaucrats”, which explores the relationship between motivation, management practice, organizational mission, and performance in the public service.

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