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)

Oxford University Press, 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 (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.

Advance praise (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


The Project Performance Database (PPD)

Downloadable below is a .zip archive with the public Project Performance Database (PPD).  The archive contains project data in .csv format, a detailed codebook, and supporting documentation from individual agencies where available.

The PPD is, at present, the world's largest database of development projects which includes project outcome ratings of holistic project performance. The PPD contains over 14,000 unique projects from eight agencies: The Asian Development Bank, the UK's Department for International Development, the Global Fund for AIDS, TB, and Malaria, the German Society for International Cooperation (GiZ), the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the Japanese International Cooperation Agency, the German Development Bank (KfW), and the World Bank. The public PPD excludes the EC data used in Navigation by Judgment due to a confidentiality agreement. World Bank data is public and easily accessible. I  thank AsDB, GFATM, JICA, and KfW for their release of information in response to requests.  GiZ, IFAD, and JICA information was coded from publicly available project-level reports. 

I believe 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.

Originally made public in February 2018, below is the July 2018 version of the archive, incorporating user suggestions and corrections as well as user-generated coding which improve the data's usability. These data are also hosted on the Harvard Dataverse here.

Project Peformance Database July 5 2018 (zip)


About Me

I'm an assistant professor of international development (IDEV) at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), and a holder of a current (2018-2019) Hopkins Catalyst grant  (thanks, JHU!). 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.  & C. Weaver. (forthcoming). A Race to the Top?: The Aid Transparency Index and the Social Power of Global Performance Indicators.  Accepted, International Organization. Downloadable below.

Honig, D. (2019). When Reporting Undermines Performance: The Costs of Politically Constrained Organizational Autonomy in Foreign Aid Implementation (advance view). International Organization. Author's final version and online appendix downloadable below.

Honig, D. (2018) 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. 

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 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. (2019).  The Power of Letting Go. Stanford Social Innovation Review, Winter 2019. Downloadable below.

Honig, D. (2018).  The Development Dance: How Donors and Recipients Negotiate the Delivery of Foreign Aid by Haley Swedlund. (Book Review) Perspectives on Politics 16:4, 1233-1234.  

Honig, D. & S. L. Cramer. (2017). Strengthening Somalia’s systems smartly: a country systems risk benefit analysis. Washington, D.C.: World Bank Group.  Peer reviewed, but without blind process.

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


Global Economic Governance in Action: When and Why States Act on the IMF's Executive Board. Joint with Alexander Kentikelenis.  Revise & Resubmit.

Hierarchical Audit Design: The Benefits of Increasing Transactional Density in Audit Studies.  Joint with James Bisbee. 

Information, Power, & Location:  World Bank Staff Decentralization and Aid Project Success.  Downloadable Below.

In Progress

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

Accounts, Accounting, Accountability, and Moore’s Law: Will ICT Improve Education Governance in Developing Countries? Joint with Lant Pritchett.

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

Honig, Power of Letting Go, SSIR Winter 2019 (pdf)


Honig, When Reporting Undermines Performance, International Organization Forthcoming; Author's Final Version (pdf)


Honig, When Reporting Undermines Performance, International Organization Forthcoming; Online Appendix (pdf)


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


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


Honig, Information Power and Location: World Bank Staff Decentralization and Aid Project Success; December 2018 Version (pdf)



International Development Proseminar (Gateway theory course for International Development concentrators; SAIS SA.400.821; Fall 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018)

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