Associate Professor of Public Policy, University College London
Associate Professor of Public Policy, University College London
“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)
“If we look at government agencies around us that stand out as ‘best’, we will find they consist of cohesive groups of women and men who are ‘turned on’ by something. But by what? Not their paychecks, nor the latest reform gimmicks, but by the very work they are doing: stopping child abuse, fighting forest fires, battling epidemics.” - Charles Goodsell (Mission Mystique, p. 1)
I’m an associate professor of public policy at University College London's School of Public Policy/Department of Political Science. My research focuses on the relationship between management practice, organizational structure, and performance in delivering welfare-improving services. I am currently completing a book manuscript (under contract, Oxford University Press) entitled Mission Driven Bureaucrats, focused on how best to attract, retain, and cultivate mission oriented public servants worldwide.
Beginning in mid-2023 I am the Principal Investigator on Relational State Capacity, an ERC-funded (5 years, 1.5 million Euros) exploration of state capacity which argues we need to move beyond simply seeing state capacity as the technical ability of the state to "make" or "deliver" things. Public welfare improvement often involves not just technical, but also social, infrastructure (e.g. developing the best COVID vaccines or contact tracing system will not lead to desired public health outcomes without citizens taking vaccines or responding accurately to contact tracers). I argue we will better be able to understand the state's capacity if we conceive of capacity as in part a function of the relationship (and relational contract) between citizens and state agents.
I'm a non-resident fellow at the Center for Global Development; a fellow of Harvard's Building State Capability Program, Johns Hopkins SAIS' Foreign Policy Institute, and Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)' MHRC; an SNF Agora Faculty Affiliate; a member of the Scholars Strategy Network; and on the editorial board of the Journal of Public Policy. I've had the impact of my work recognized in a variety of fora, including lists of the 100 most influential academics in government (2021) and 50 most influential researchers shaping 21st century politicians (2022). If you're a public servant or leader and believe my work might be of benefit to your team or agency, please don't hesitate to get in touch.
From 2015-2021 I was an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins SAIS, and have also previously held visiting appointments at Thammasat University (Bangkok)'s Department of Economics, Leiden University (Netherlands') Institute of Political Science, and the West Africa Research Center in Dakar. Outside 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 through agricultural entrepreneurship (East Timor); and have worked for a number of local and international NGOs. I've lived, worked, and/or done research in Bangladesh, East Timor, India, Israel, Liberia, The Netherlands, Senegal, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Thailand, the UK, and the USA. A proud Detroiter, I hold a BA from the University of Michigan (Go Blue!), am a "Woo" (alum of Princeton's SPIA, despite receiving no degree; exited to take employment with the Sirleaf administration in Liberia), and hold a Ph.D. in Public Policy from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.
If you're looking for data or info on my 2018 book Navigation by Judgment: Why and When Top-Down Control of Foreign Aid Won't Work, scroll down for a description of the work. Those looking to download the public Project Performance Database (PPD), to my knowledge the world's largest database of aid project outcomes across multiple organizations, can find it at the bottom of this page.
Academic Journal/Press Publications
Honig, D., R. Lall, & B. Parks. (Early View) When Does Transparency Improve Institutional Performance? Evidence from 20,000 Projects in 183 Countries. American Journal of Political Science. Authors' final version & online appendix here; replication archive here.
Bisbee, J. & D. Honig. (2022) Flight to Safety: Covid-Induced Changes in the Intensity of Status Quo Preference and Voting Behavior. American Political Science Review, 116 (1), 70-86. Authors' Final Version & Online Appendix here.
Honig, D. (2021). Supportive Management Practice and Intrinsic Motivation Go Together in the Public Service. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 118 (13). Pre-analysis plan here; replication archive here; author's final version below.
Borragina-Ballard, L., J. Sobeck, & D. Honig. (2021) What Motivates Highly Trained Child Welfare Professionals to Stay or Leave? Child & Youth Services Review 124.
Bertelli, A., M. Hassan, D. Honig, D. Rogger, & M. Williams. (2020). An Agenda for the Study of Public Administration in Developing Countries. Governance 33:4, 735-748. Translated into Arabic and reprinted in Hikama 3 (2), 177-198
Honig, D. (2020). Information, Power, & Location: World Bank Staff Decentralization and Aid Project Success.Governance 33:4, 749-769. Replication materials here. Author's final version and online appendix downloadable below.
Bisbee, J. & D. Honig. (2020). Flight to Safety: 2020 Democratic Primary Election Results and COVID-19. Journal of COVID Economics 3, 54-84.
Honig, D. & C. Weaver. (2019). A Race to the Top?: The Aid Transparency Index and the Social Power of Global Performance Indicators. International Organization 73:3, 579-610. Related erratum here; replication materials here. Authors' final version and online appendix downloadable below. Reprinted (with some alterations/improvements) in Kelley, J. & B. Simmons (editors), 2020. The Power of Global Performance Indicators, Cambridge University Press. Chapter 5, 157-191.
Honig, D. (2019). When Reporting Undermines Performance: The Costs of Politically Constrained Organizational Autonomy in Foreign Aid Implementation. International Organization 73:1, 171-201. Author's final version and online appendix downloadable below.
Honig, D. (2019) Case Study Design and Analysis as a Complementary Empirical Strategy to Econometric Analysis in the Study of Public Agencies: Deploying Mutually Supportive Mixed Methods. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 29:2, 299-317.
Honig, D. (2018) Navigation by Judgment: Why and When Top Down Management of Foreign Aid Doesn't Work. Oxford University Press.
Honig, D. & N. Gulrajani. (2018). Making Good On Donors' Desire to Do Development Differently. Third 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 here. Authors' final version downloadable below.
Policy & Working Papers
Honig, D. (2022). Effectiveness is in the Details: Realizing the Promise of Localization Requires Rethinking USAID's Administrative Process. In Ingram, G. Locally Driven Development: Overcoming the Obstacles. Brookings Global Working Paper #173, Brookings Institution.
Honig, D. (2022). Managing for Motivation as Public Performance Improvement Strategy in Education & Far Beyond. Center for International Development at Harvard University Working Paper #409. Also issued as a Research on Improving Systems in Education (RISE) Essay.
Honig, D. (2020). Actually Navigating by Judgment: Towards a New Paradigm of Donor Accountability Where the Current System Doesn’t Work. Center for Global Development Policy Paper 169.
Honig, D., Lall, R., and Parks, B. (2020). When Does Transparency Improve Institutional Performance? Evidence from 20,000 Aid Projects in 183 Countries. AidData Working Paper #100. Williamsburg, VA: AidData at William & Mary.
Campbell, S., D. Honig, and S. Rose. (2020). Creating an Accountability Framework that Serves the Global Fragility Act's Mission. Center for Global Development.
Honig, D. (2019). The Power of Letting Go. Stanford Social Innovation Review, Winter 2019. Downloadable below.
Honig, D. and Lant Pritchett. (2019). The Limits of Accounting-Based Accountability in Education (and Far Beyond): Why More Accounting Will Rarely Solve Accountability Problems. Center for Global Development Working Paper 510. Washington, DC: Center for Global Development. Also issued as Research on Improving Systems in Education (RISE) Working Paper 19-030.
Honig, D. & S. L. Cramer. (2017). Strengthening Somalia’s Systems Smartly: A Country Systems Risk Benefit Analysis. Washington, D.C.: World Bank Group.
Gulrajani, N. & D. Honig (2016). Reforming Donors in Fragile States: Using Public Management Theory More Strategically. Overseas Development Institute (ODI) Report.
Blogs, Op-Eds, Briefs, & Other Shorter Writing
Honig, D. (2022) Be the Solution: How Bureaucrats can Improve Public Sector Performance Through Mission Management. Pakistan Dialogues, Mahbub Ul Haw Research Centre, Lahore University of Management Sciences.
Honig, D. (2020) Managing Better: What All of Us Can Do to Encourage Aid Success. Center for Global Development Policy Brief.
Bisbee, J. & D. Honig. (2020). Sanders was losing to Biden anyway. But he lost more in areas with coronavirus cases. Washington Post Monkey Cage, April 2, 2020.
Honig, D. (2019). Putting “Account” at the Center of “Accountability”: Why ICT Won’t Improve Education Systems (and Beyond), and What Will. Center for Global Development, May 24, 2019.
Honig, D. (2019). Let Local Leaders Lead: Why Donors Should Create More Space for Local Leadership. Development Leadership Program Blog, September 27. Center for Global Development version here.
Honig, D. (2017). How Frequent Reporting of Quantitative Accountability Measures Can Undermine Bureaucratic Performance. Basic Facts Brief, Scholars Strategy Network.
Mission Driven Bureaucrats (book manuscript)
Towards More Effective Government Service Delivery in Bangladesh: Local Engineers Mission & Motivation. Joint with Tim Besley & Adnan Khan.
The Strength of Weak Tools: Supportive Management and Development Effectiveness in Thai District Governance
Global Economic Governance in Action: Linked Ecologies on the IMF's Executive Board. Joint with Alexander Kentikelenis & Timon Forster.
What World Bank Projects Get Evaluated? The Personnel Political Economy of Selection into RCTs. Joint with Vincenzo Di Maro, Arianna Legovini, Brad Parks, & Jennifer Rogla.
Back to the Future of Development: Mapping and Navigating a Fragmenting Field. Joint with Greg Larson & Michael Woolcock.
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 (downloadable below) 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.
From the back cover:
"Honig's brilliant new book shows that when implementation is complex the ever greater tendency to reduce accountability to narrow accounting actually harms rather than helps aid effectiveness. Management and staff of every development organization will benefit from his insights." --Lant Pritchett, Professor of the Practice of International Development, Harvard Kennedy School
"Dan Honig provides a novel, rigorous empirical examination of the outcomes of foreign aid efforts, opening up fresh possibilities for getting things done in unpredictable settings. In doing so, he offers an original approach to the age-old problems of delegation and control. Honig is a new voice to be reckoned with." --Walter W. Powell, Stanford University
"In a panoramic study that establishes a new baseline for excellence in its domain, Dan Honig shows the vast costs of overzealous management, and why politicians and funders need to let foreign aid programs adapt themselves to local context." --Daniel Carpenter, Allie S. Freed Professor of Government, Harvard University
"Honig assesses the conditions under which high levels of agent discretion are likely to out-perform heavily controlled, top-down management practices when providing development assistance. He couples an impressive number of interviews with original statistical analysis to provide important and timely insights for scholars of international organizations and practitioners seeking to employ best practices in foreign aid delivery." --Sarah Bermeo, Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University
"Honig has written an important book that deserves to be seriously engaged by both development practitioners and the scholarly community. Expertly mixing methods and drawing on systematic, comparative data, Honig explores the inner-workings of development agencies, demonstrating the conditions under which decentralizing authority to officials in the field generates better development outcomes. At a moment when how we deliver foreign assistance is a source of contentious political debate, Honig's contribution provides rigorous, empirical evidence to help guide policymakers as they consider organizational reform." --Jeremy M. Weinstein, Professor of Political Science, Stanford University
Downloadable below is a .zip archive with the public Project Performance Database (PPD) 2.1; these files also generously hosted by AidData here. The archive contains project data in .csv and .dta format and a detailed codebook.
The PPD is, at present, the world's largest database of development projects which includes project outcome ratings of holistic project performance. This PPD 2.0 is joint with Ranjit Lall & Brad Parks and undergirds our 2022 AJPS paper. The PPD 2 contains project evaluations from 12 bilateral and multilateral aid agencies between 1956 and 2016, including more than 20,000 unique foreign aid projects taking place in 183 recipient countries around the world. The PPD 2 fully incorporates and expands on the PPD 1 originally made public in February 2018 and used in my 2018 book Navigation by Judgment, which contained over 14,000 projects and 8 aid agencies. Those looking for the original PPD 1 can find it on the Harvard Dataverse here.
I hope this data can be of substantial use to scholars of international organizations, aid effectiveness, organizational behavior, and public management, among others. 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.
Improving Public Policy Implementation (originally entitled "Getting S**t Done in Difficult Places; UCL POLS 0096, Term 2 2023)
International Organizations (UCL PUBL 0089; Term 2 2023)
International Public Policy (UCL PUBL 0090; Term 1 2021)
International Development Proseminar (Gateway theory course for International Development concentrators; SAIS SA.400.821/822; Fall 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2020)
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)
Copyright © 2021 Dan Honig, Associate Professor of Public Policy, University College London - All Rights Reserved.