Foreign aid organizations collectively spend hundreds of billions of dollars annually, with mixed results. Part of the problem in these endeavors lies in their execution. When should foreign aid organizations empower actors on the front lines of delivery to guide aid interventions, and when should distant headquarters lead?
In Navigation by Judgment, Dan Honig argues that high-quality implementation of foreign aid programs often requires contextual information that cannot be seen by those in distant headquarters. Tight controls and a focus on reaching pre-set measurable targets often prevent front-line workers from using skill, local knowledge, and creativity to solve problems in ways that maximize the impact of foreign aid.
Drawing on a novel database of over 14,000 discrete development projects across nine aid agencies and eight paired case studies of development projects, Honig concludes that aid agencies will often benefit from giving field agents the authority to use their own judgments to guide aid delivery. This "navigation by judgment" is particularly valuable when environments are unpredictable and when accomplishing an aid program's goals is hard to accurately measure.