Democracy, governance and randomised media assistance

Devra C Moehler


In recent years, the use of field experiments to study the impact of development assistance on democracy and governance outcomes (DG outcomes) has grown tremendously. However, most of the DG field experiments conducted to date focus on only a few sectors, namely elections, community and local governance, and service delivery (Moehler, 2010). Experimentalists have largely overlooked other DG sectors, such as media development assistance. This paper investigates the potential for field experiments to contribute to our understanding of the intersection between media, democracy and governance. It reviews the small body of pioneering field experiments on media and political development, and it outlines some of the obstacles to conducting and learning from field experiments in this sector. Finally, the paper suggests opportunities for building a body of experimental evidence that can inform DG interventions in the media assistance sector.

This paper focuses attention on randomised field experiment s in the developing world that explicitly address the use of media to achieve DG outcomes. It concentrates on the opportunities and challenges of field experiments, under the assumption that field experiments should be viewed as a complement to, rather than a replacement for, other methods. Typically, a multi-method approach yields a more useful evidence base for understanding development issues.

The paper is divided into six sections. The first section describes the growth of DG assistance and the increasing interest in DG field experiments. The second section describes the domain of media assistance targeted at DG outcomes. The third provides an overview of current experimental and quasi-experimental studies on the intersection between media, democracy and governance. The fourth and fifth sections describe some of the challenges to successfully employing field experiments to inform media assistance programmes. The final section concludes by arguing for the benefits of practitioner-academic collaborations that provide experimental evidence about the influences on as well as the effects of media content related to democracy and governance.


Moehler, D. C. (2013). Democracy, governance and randomised media assistance. Working Paper 4. BBC Media Action.