Smart implementation is the key to effective international development assistance. Yet, the development field has long been pulled between two conflicting imperatives on implementation. The desire for central control, embodied in strategic frameworks and tight lines of authority from headquarters to the field, sits in tension with the recognition of the need for local flexibility and initiative.

In his new book, Navigation by Judgment: Why and When Top-Down Control of Foreign Aid Doesn’t Work, Dan Honig presents an empirically grounded argument for the value of implementation led by the judgment of field staff, particularly when tasks are difficult to measure and country environments are unpredictable. In this roundtable discussion, Honig presented his key findings and their implications for major aid organizations. Nilmini Rubin and Larry Garber, experienced development practitioners, responded with comments and reflections.

Dan Honig

Dan Honig is assistant professor of international development and an affiliate of the international political economy program at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

Nilmini Rubin

Nilmini Rubin is vice president for international development at Tetra Tech.

Larry Garber

Larry Garber is an independent consultant specializing in international development and democracy promotion.

Thomas Carothers

Thomas Carothers is senior vice president for studies and director of the Democracy and Rule of Law Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.