Giving Compass' Take:

• Dan Honig collected evidence that development projects are hindered by top-down regulations and decisions made by people in offices, rather than workers on the ground. 

• How can organizations empower their employees on the ground? What organizations already successfully delegate decision-making power? 

• Read about breaking down power structures.

If Dan Honig were put in charge of the United States’ aid agency tomorrow, the assistant professor of international development at John Hopkins University knows exactly what he would tell President Donald Trump.

Honig’s new book, “Navigation by Judgment,” argues that the skills and local knowledge of aid workers in countries are often more important to the true success of a project than the pre-set targets imposed by headquarters.

Informed by his experiences in countries such as Liberia, Thailand, East Timor, and Israel, Honig started with a simple hypothesis: Reporting requirements too often get in the way, and people on the ground should be given more autonomy to make decisions — and if necessary, mistakes — in order to learn how to do better.

Now, after building a database of 14,000 projects spanning 40 years, 180 countries, and nine agencies in each category of aid recognized by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Honig said he has the empirical evidence to prove it.

He found that as environments become more unpredictable, agencies that empower local staff generally are able to cope better. More top-down control means more oversight, more standardized behavior, and potentially more extrinsic motivation through things such as performance pay. But he also warned of distortions as people do more of what is measured and ignore what isn’t, even when the latter — such as gauging a country’s political environment — is vital to a project’s success.

Read the full article about decision-making power by Vince Chadwick at Devex International Development.