Pitt’s Governance Group to Evaluate U.S. Aid Programs in West Africa

Issue Date: 
May 28, 2013

Members of Pitt’s Governance Group who will provide evaluation and training services in West Africa are (from left) Louis A. Picard, director of Pitt’s Ford Institute of Human Security; Steven E. Finkel, chair of Pitt’s Department of Political Science and Daniel H. Wallace Professor of Political Science; and Chris A. Belasco, doctoral candidate in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

In West African communities where crime, unemployment, and religious extremism are high and government effectiveness is low, organizations are working to establish democratic order. Are they succeeding? How should these aid groups determine whether they’re effecting meaningful change?

To help answer these questions, a University of Pittsburgh faculty group has joined an evaluation and training project supported by a $2.6 million contract from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. government’s primary humanitarian aid agency. Pitt’s Governance Group in the University’s Ford Institute for Human Security has partnered with The Mitchell Group, a Washington, D.C.-based research firm, to examine the effectiveness of USAID programs in Burkina Faso, Chad, Cote D’Ivoire, and Niger over the next five years. In addition, the Pitt-Mitchell Group team will help teach program-evaluation skills to West African professionals working in civic and humanitarian organizations.

“Through this partnership, we will help organizations to evaluate their effectiveness in mitigating conflicts, improving local governments, and countering violent extremism,” said Pitt Governance Group coordinator Louis A. Picard, director of Pitt’s Ford Institute of Human Security and a professor in the University’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. “In terms of international affairs, there are no more important issues than conflict mitigation and governance in the lesser-developed parts of the world.”

The Pitt-Mitchell Group team has been tasked with analyzing USAID’s Peace through Development program in Niger, Burkina Faso, and Chad, which is working to help communities threatened by violent extremist groups. In addition, the team will assess USAID programs aiming to improve postconflict social cohesion in Cote d’Ivoire, early warning signs of regional conflict throughout West Africa, and natural resources transparency in Niger. The Pitt-Mitchell Group team also will carry out research projects on political violence, party development, and other regional matters and manage a fellowship program for citizens of Burkina Faso, Chad, and Niger to develop their own research projects.

Analyzing USAID’s Peace through Development program will be the initial focus of the five-year project. Pitt’s Governance Group, whose principal investigators are Picard and lead methodologist Steven E. Finkel, chair of Pitt’s Department of Political Science and Daniel H. Wallace Professor of Political Science, will oversee the conduct of surveys, interviews, and focus-group discussions in each of the countries where Peace through Development operates. The Pitt group also will conduct cross-national statistical comparisons in order to monitor the program’s overall effectiveness.

“We plan to use a variety of cutting-edge methodologies—ranging from experimental methods employing randomized treatment assignment to longitudinal comparisons of targeted regions and matched ‘control’ areas—in order to evaluate the impact of the program,” said Finkel. “By conducting these kinds of rigorous evaluations, we’ll be in a much better position to inform USAID about what aspects of the program are most effective in combating violent extremism and how the program can be better designed and implemented as the project moves forward.”

Finkel and Picard are involving Pitt graduate students in the project, including Chris A. Belasco, a doctoral candidate in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. Belasco, who is serving as research coordinator and Governance Group administrator for the project, spoke about the importance of Pitt’s role. “As a third party, we will be identifying areas where the organizations are not as strong,” he said, “working with them to make sure they get a chance to enhance their skills and become stronger organizations in general.”

The Pitt participants expect that the project will prove to be a significant resource for faculty and students.

“We may want to use this material in other parts of the world, in other programs,” said Picard, adding that the methodological work completed during this project could be valuable to students and other researchers. “We also have a long-term opportunity to develop some programmatic activities.”

Pitt’s Governance Group formally signed the contract for the project in April 2013.

The Governance Group is a research center founded in 2011 by Pitt faculty who study issues of governance, foreign assistance, and international development. It is housed in Pitt’s Ford Institute for Human Security in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA) and includes faculty from GSPIA and the University’s School of Education, School of Law, and Departments of Economics and Political Science within the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences.