Associate Professor of Public Policy, UCL
Associate Professor, Georgetown McCourt School of Public Policy
Associate Professor of Public Policy, UCL
Associate Professor, Georgetown McCourt School of Public Policy
“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)
“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)
I try to center the human(s) in everything I do: research, teaching, consulting, day to day interactions. In my view this is the key to unlocking a better world - a more just, thriving government, society, planet.
In my academic work this leads to a focus on the human-ness of the people who work for the state (bureaucrats) and the people who don't but interact with it (citizens). I think about the organizational bits of government's role in enhancing citizens' welfare - particularly organizational structure, motivation, and norms of state agencies and citizens' groups.
My next book, Mission Driven Bureaucrats, is about how the humans who work for the state often are or can be driven by a desire to help deliver on the things their agency does - educating children, helping sick people get better, ensuring the trains run on time. "Managing for compliance" - rules, regulations, targets - works for some kinds of tasks and people, but not others. I conclude based on my own research and that of many others that in some contexts what I call "managing for empowerment" - allowing autonomy, cultivating competence, and creating connection to peers and purpose - is more likely to lead to better organizational performance. Compliance levers are useful; but we have been pulling those levers (and more or less only those levers) for a half-century now in our attempts to improve Government. In all the many places that hasn't worked, it's time to try something else.
From 2023-8 my research is/will be focused on what I'm calling Relational State Capacity, a European Research Council-awarded five year 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 think we will better be able to understand and build the state's capacity to make citizens' lives better if we conceive of capacity as in part a function of the relationship (and relational contract) between citizens and state agents.
In my day-to-day I try to live by William James' observation that the sum of one's life experiences is what we pay attention to. I strive to pay attention to people as individuals - to learn their stories, to understand how their minds work, to have my lived experience broadened through the blessing of being able to interact with them. I'm liable to start a conversation on a train, park bench, or when waiting in line. If those conversations seem to be going well I'm likely to try to ask some real questions, to learn some real things about how the human I'm talking with makes meaning or what they want in their lives, and why. Victorian (UK) social reformer John Ruskin advocated that we "Only Connect". On the days of my life that feel most worthwhile I can usually point to a meaningful connection that I think has or will help me be an improved version of myself.
To the more standard bio:
I’m an associate professor of public policy at University College London's School of Public Policy/Department of Political Science, and an associate professor at Georgetown' University's McCourt School of Public Policy (visiting fall 2023, tenured post from Jan 2024). I'm a non-resident fellow at the Center for Global Development; an associate of Harvard's Building State Capability Program; a fellow of 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; a senior fellow at Artha Global, 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 and 50 most influential researchers shaping 21st century politicians. 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.
Some people visiting this site may be looking to download the public Project Performance Database (PPD), the world's largest database of aid project outcomes across multiple organizations; it can be found at the bottom of this page.
Academic Journal/Press Publications
Honig, D., R. Lall, & B. Parks. (2023) When Does Transparency Improve Institutional Performance? Evidence from 20,000 Projects in 183 Countries. American Journal of Political Science 67:4, 1096-1116. 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. Successfully replicated/main findings confirmed by Institute for Replication (Malmberg & Scates 2023) 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. (2023), Für maximale Wirkungen: mehr Risiken wagen (To Maximize Impact: Take More Risks) in Unter erschwerten Bedingungen. Entwicklungszusammenarbeit in fragilen Staaten (Development Cooperation in Fragile States Under Difficult Conditions). Faust, J., A. Kocks, T. Wencker (Editors), Themenschwerpunktbericht, Deutsches Evaluierungsinstitut der Entwicklungszusammenarbeit (DEval), Bonn.
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.
Downloadable below is a .zip archive with the public Project Performance Database (PPD) 2.x. 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 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 (e.g. for replicating academic work which employs the data) can find it on the Harvard Dataverse here. 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.