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Measuring Autocracy Promotion

Peter Burnell, Professor at the University of Warwick, England, has written a new article exploring whether democracy assistance practitioners should measure autocracy promotion.

The questions that arise are not simply how far democrats should be concerned but whether there are specific implications for democracy assistance. While the answers are not yet clear, a strong case can be made on precautionary grounds for developing new ways of assessing the true measure of autocracy promotion/export and evaluating it against the performance of democracy support.  Although setting a difficult challenge in its own right, this work could help move democracy assistance and democratisation forward in the challenging times that at present both of them undoubtedly face.

The article is well worth a read, as it tackles several important issues of current relevance.  Among  those are the increased demand to measure development programs, and the debate surrounding the extent that autocracy promotion poses a threat (or even exists).  The topic of the paper is based upon Burnell’s upcoming book, Promoting Democracy Abroad: Policy and Performance, and can also be be read in his recent paper in the University of Warwick’s Journal of Law.   In that paper, Burnell argues that much of the original research into the effectiveness of democracy assistance was conducted in an environment where such programs went largely unchallenged by other countries.  With the spread of autocracy promotion, however, such efforts need to be reevaluated.  Democracy assistance programs, he argues, need to be measured against the success of their autocratic rivals.

Burnell acknowledges some of the major barriers to such assessments happening.   Financial and time constraints mean DG practitioners are often reluctant to engage in impact evaluation for democracy assistance programs.  It would seem to be asking a lot, therefore, to take on the additional burden of assessing the competition’s programs as well.  Furthermore, conducting such assessments would be challenging.  Impact evaluation for DG programs is in itself problematic, as many indicators are difficult to quantify.   These problems would only be more prevalent in assessing autocracy promotion, as the inherently nontransparent nature of such programs would make data collection unreliable.

Burnell explores a variety of issues related to developing a meaningful strategy of such assessments, but concludes that the inherent difficulties in such an exercise should not prevent donor agencies from undertaking the challenge.

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