Fast-Track Institution Building in Conflict-Affected Countries? Insights from Recent Field Experiments

Elisabeth King, Cyrus Samii


This article synthesises evidence from four recent ‘community-driven development’ field experiments in countries affected by violent conflict. Conflict-affected settings are presumed to combine extraordinary need and opportunity for building institutions. The substantive and methodological consistency of the field experiments (Afghanistan, DRC, Liberia, and Sierra Leone) enables general conclusions about attempts at local institution building in conflict-affected contexts. The study assesses prospects for externally driven “fast-track” institution building, meaning the strengthening of local capacities for inclusive problem solving and collective action over a few years. The evidence tells us that CDD programmes are far from ‘proven impact’ interventions.

The study finds that the CDD programmes generally established successful community-level organisations, broadening the base of participation in local development and providing an opportunity for community members to meaningfully work together to achieve community goals. But the programmes largely failed to increase the capacity for collective action in a way that is durable and transferable beyond the CDD interventions.

The authors suggest that the motivating assumptions that conflict-affected areas exhibit a special need and opportunity for building social institutions problematic. Further, programme design issues may undermine performance. These issues include:

  • panacea-type thinking
  • a relatively low intensity of intervention
  • the supply-driven nature of CDD
  • the ways in which the relationships between design and context may constitute enabling conditions.

The study also finds that opinions that people are willing to share about CDD in private differ from those that they share in public. Even though interviewees often call the theory of change “ridiculous” in private, public programme goals still aspire to fast-track institution building.


King, E., and Samii, C. (2014) Fast-Track Institution Building in Conflict-Affected Countries? Insights from Recent Field Experiments. World Development 64: 740-754