Dan Honig

Assistant Professor of International Development, Johns Hopkins SAIS

“Organization matters, even in government agencies. The key difference between more and less successful bureaucracies… has less to do with finances, client populations, or legal arrangements than with organizational systems.” - James Q. Wilson (Bureaucracy, p. 23)

Forthcoming from Oxford University Press, April 2018

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, I conclude 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.    Accomplishing results and accounting for results are sometimes in tension; focusing agents on meeting metrics sometimes undermines performance.

About Me

I'm an assistant professor of international development (IDEV) at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). My research focuses on the relationship between organizational structure, management practice, and performance in developing country governments and organizations that provide foreign aid.  I am currently beginning a new work stream focused on what I call "mission-driven bureaucrats" exploring how optimal management practice is affected by the motivational mix of bureaucrats.

I've held a variety of positions outside of the academy. I was special assistant, then advisor, to successive Ministers of Finance (Liberia); ran a local nonprofit focused on helping post-conflict youth realize the power of their own ideas to better their lives and communities through agricultural entrepreneurship (East Timor); and have worked for a number of local and international NGOs (e.g. Ashoka in Thailand; Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development in Israel). I also do some work on aid bargaining and aid coordination in fragile states, most recently in Somalia. A proud Detroiter, I hold a BA from the University of Michigan (Go Blue!); I also hold a Ph.D. from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.


Traditional Academic Peer Review

Honig, D. (2018) Navigation by Judgment: Why and When Top Down Management of Foreign Aid Doesn't Work. Forthcoming, Oxford University Press. 

Honig, D. & N. Gulrajani. (2018). Making Good On Donors' Desire to Do Development DifferentlyThird World Quarterly 39:1, 68-84.

Grossman, S. & D. Honig. (2017). Evidence from Lagos on Discrimination across Ethnic and Class Identities in Informal Trade.   World Development 96: 520-528.  Replication materials and code here.  Authors' final version downloadable below.

Other Publications

Honig, D. & J. Johnson (2017).  Body Cameras Work - Just Not in the Way You Think (Op-ed). "On Policing", Police Foundation.

Gulrajani, N. &  D. Honig (2016). Reforming donors in fragile states: Using public management theory more strategically.  Overseas Development Institute (ODI) Report. Peer reviewed, but without blind process.

Honig, D. (2016). More Autonomy for Donor Organizations and Their Agents (Sometimes): Bringing Organizational Behavior and Management Theory to Foreign Aid Delivery.  Winner of the GDN Next Horizons 2014 Essay Contest, Supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  Revised version. Single blind peer review (anonymous reviewers, known author) by practitioners and scholars on GDN/Gates award committee. 

Under Academic Peer Review

Honig, D. (2018). When Reporting Undermines Performance: The Costs of Politically Constrained Organizational Autonomy in Foreign Aid Implementation. Conditional Acceptance, International Organization. Downloadable below.


Honig, D.  & C. Weaver. (2017).  A Race to the Top?:The Aid Transparency Index and the Social Power of Global Performance Indicators. Revise & Resubmit. Downloadable below.

Honig, D. & A. Kentikelenis.  (2017). Who Governs the IMF? An Exploration of IMF Executive Board Minutes. Under Initial Review.

Bisbee, J. & D. Honig. (2018). Hierarchial Audit Design:  The Benefits of Increasing Transactional Density in Audit Studies. Under Initial Review.

In Progress

The Fragmenting Aid Landscape.  Joint with Greg Larson and Michael Woolcock.

Transparency and Aid Effectiveness.   Joint with Ranjit Lall and Brad Parks.

Going Out to the Country:  World Bank Managerial Decentralization and Aid Project Success.

Delivering the Case: Using Case Studies to Complement Econometric Analysis in Identifying Causal Mechanisms.

Honig, When Reporting Undermines Performance; Jan 2018 Version (pdf)


Grossman Honig, Evidence From Lagos World Development 2017; Authors' Final Version (pdf)


Honig Weaver, A Race to the Top ATI; Jan 2018 Version (pdf)


The Project Performance Database (PPD)

I am currently working to assemble a codebook to accompany the quantitative dataset of international development organization (IDO) project performance that is used in Navigation by Judgment; when complete this codebook and the PPD data in .csv format will be available for download below.  I believe this data can be of substantial use to other scholars of international organizations, aid effectiveness, organizational behavior, and public management.  I am very keen to see the PPD put to use; if I can answer any questions or provide any clarification on the data, or be of help thinking through potential uses of the data, etc. please do not hesitate to contact me.

Files coming soon.



Introduction to Development (SAIS SA.400.821; Fall 2015, 2016, 2017)

Managing and Delivering Development Assistance (SAIS SA.400.776; Fall 2015, Spring 2017, 2018)

External Interventions to Reduce Poverty – Foreign Aid (Harvard Economics 970; Spring 2012, 2014) 

Contact Information

dhonig@jhu.edu; @rambletastic

1717 Massachusetts Ave NW Office #735A, Washington, DC 20036