2018. Susan Dodsworth and Nic Cheeseman,Ten challenges in democracy support – and how to overcome them’, Global Policy (accepted, forthcoming).  [Accepted manuscript available on request].

Democracy supporters face tough times. Authoritarian reversals across North and sub-Saharan Africa, combined with a lack of progress in the Middle East and Central Asia, have dampened funders’ enthusiasm for the endeavour. To better understand these setbacks, we identify ten challenges in democracy support. These are the challenges of: (i) difficult cases; (ii) authoritarian backlash; (iii) adapting to context; (iv) confronting politics; (v) managing uncertainty; (vi) unintended side-effects; (vii) a tight funding environment; (viii) defining and demonstrating success; (ix) competing priorities; and – exacerbating all the rest, (x) a limited evidence base. While much has been written about the need for more coordinated and politically intelligent engagement to meet these challenges, far less has been said about the need to improve our evidence-base and the way in which policy-oriented research is produced. We identify several strategies that policy makers and practitioners can use to advance the field. All require better bridges between research, policy and practice, so we offer concrete suggestions about how such bridges can be built.

2018.  Susan Dodsworth and Nic Cheeseman, Political risk in development: Learning from the UK’s democracy aid‘, Public Administration and Development (Early View, online). [Read-only version available here. Accepted manuscript available on request]

Risk, particularly political risk, is inescapable in development. Donors have devised tools to manage it, but many of their solutions, including political economy analysis, have changed little on the ground. This paper contributes by presenting a novel analytical framework that helps to translate analysis into action. This framework is based on a review of programs delivered by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, and so has been developed in the context of a particular subset of aid: democracy assistance. Political risk has an extremely strong influence on this type of aid, and so it provides a valuable example. Our framework centres on two trade-offs inherent in the provision of aid for democracy support. The first relates to the type of approach employed in a program; should it focus on a thematic issue or a specific event, or should it focus primarily on an institution and its processes? The second concerns the scope of a program in terms of who it includes. Understanding the costs and benefits of these trade-offs will help development practitioners to make decisions about political risk in a more rigorous and transparent way and, potentially, to shift from a culture of risk-aversion, to one of informed risk-taking.

2018Susan Dodsworth and Nic Cheeseman, ‘The promise – and pitfalls – of collaboration with development organizations and policy makers in Africa‘, African Affairs (online 14 November 2017). [Accepted manuscript version available here]

A growing number of academics and development organizations are engaging in collaborative research projects. Increasingly, this includes efforts to co-produce research, rather than simply share information. These new ways of doing research raise important ethical and practical issues that are rarely discussed but deserve attention – especially in Africa. The continent is the region of the world in which these new approaches are particularly prevalent, and one where the challenges those approaches create tend to manifest in distinct or acute ways. In this Research Note, we draw on a collaborative research project with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy to illuminate these difficulties. We also offer suggestions for how to manage the challenges that arise when academics and development organizations conduct research together. Ensuring that such collaborations are both effective and ethical is not easy, but it must be done if we are to develop better informed policy and scholarship.

Policy papers

2017. Susan Dodsworth and Nic Cheeseman. Defending democracy: When do parliaments protect political space?, for the Westminster Foundation for Democracy.

Governments seeking to close political space have a number of tools at their disposal. One popular tactic is to suppress civil society by restricting foreign funding, controlling registration and imposing onerous reporting requirements. Parliaments often aid and abet executives in this process, even in purportedly democratic states. This paper examines when parliaments protect political space by rejecting restrictive civil society laws. In doing so, it identifies several factors that shape the success (or failure) of international efforts to motivate legislatures to defend democracy. Two paired comparisons – one of Kenya and Uganda, and another of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan – expose the importance of local actors and the critical role of the incentives that face individual legislators.

2017. Susan Dodsworth and Nic Cheeseman. From strategy to implementation: The case of civil society, for the Westminster Foundation for Democracy.

This paper demonstrates the challenges that those working to strengthen democracy confront in putting their strategies into practice, using the Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s (WFD) work with civil society as an example. The paper situates WFD’s support to civil society within its broader strategy, considering why WFD supports civil society and where it fits in its theory of change. It then explores how WFD implements that strategy on the ground using a current programme in Macedonia as an example. The paper analyses strategy and implementation in light of existing research on the role of civil society in democratization and the way in which the international community supports it. This allows us identify the strengths and weaknesses of the current approach, as well as options for mitigating risks and windows of opportunity for increasing impact. These have implications beyond WFD – DFID’s recent Civil Society Partnership Review demonstrates that other organisations face similar issues.

2016. Susan Dodsworth and Nic Cheeseman. More than ideology, more than elections: A strategic approach to sister-party support, for the Westminster Foundation for Democracy.

Support to political parties is perhaps the most difficult, and most criticized, form of democracy promotion. Despite this, there is relatively little research identifying how it might be made more effective. This policy paper draws on the body of practice accumulated by UK political parties, through programmes funded via the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, to help fill that gap. It examines what their distinctive approach to political party strengthening contributes to democracy promotion and identifies where these approaches work best. The evidence suggests that the sister-party model – a model centred on relationships between parties with similar ideological positions – has value, but that it would be more effective if it were deployed more strategically. When adopting this model, democracy promoters should be more selective about who they work with, where they work, and the kind of work they do.

2016. Susan Dodsworth and Nic Cheeseman. Navigating Trade-offs in Parliamentary Strengthening, for the Westminster Foundation for Democracy.

Parliamentary strengthening involves trade-offs, both in the choice between issue-based and institutional approaches, and in the choice of who a programme will include. Democracy promoters cannot avoid these trade-offs, but with systematic evaluation of past programmes they can navigate them more effectively. This policy paper draws on the Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s experience in parliamentary strengthening to suggest how this might be done. In doing so it demonstrates the utility of greater collaboration between academic researchers and democracy promoters. It also illustrates the gains that can be made when those who undertake parliamentary strengthening make their experience public knowledge.