When do performance assessments influence policy behavior? Micro-evidence from the 2014 Reform Efforts Survey

  • Takaaki MasakiEmail author
  • Bradley C. Parks


Sovereign governments, multilateral institutions, and non-governmental organizations have created a wide array of tools to assess the policy performance of developing countries, including conditional aid and debt relief programs, blacklists, watch lists, performance-based organizational accession procedures, cross-country benchmarking exercises, and country-specific diagnostics. Scholars and policymakers generally agree that these types of performance assessments can influence the policy priorities and actions of public sector decision-makers in low-income and middle-income countries. However, there is little systematic evidence about the specific conditions under which performance assessments instigate changes in policy behavior. There is also a lack of understanding about the causal mechanisms through which different types of performance assessments facilitate policy changes. We seek to close this evidence gap by leveraging a survey of 1784 government officials that provides comparative data on the agenda-setting influence and reform design influence of more than 100 performance assessments in 123 low-income and middle-income countries. Using a multilevel linear model that accounts for the hierarchical structure of the survey data, we find robust evidence that performance assessments yield greater policy influence when they make an explicit comparison of government performance across countries and allow assessed governments to participate in the assessment process. This pattern is consistent with the theoretical argument that policymakers carefully weigh the credibility signaling benefits and policy autonomy costs of addressing performance assessment requirements.


Performance assessment Sovereignty Credibility Reform FDI Elite survey 



We thank Dan Honig, Eddy Malesky, Elise Le, Steven Bernstein, Anton Strezhnev, Judith Kelley, and Beth Simmons for providing helpful comments on previous drafts of the manuscript. We also thank NORC at the University of Chicago—in particular, Renee Hendley, Kate Hobson, David Kordus, Elise Le, Aparna Ramakrishnan, Alex Rigaux, Bhanuj Soni, and Stacy Stonich—for their survey design and data collection assistance. Additionally, we owe a debt of gratitude to the nearly 6,750 development policymakers and practitioners from 126 countries who participated in the 2014 Reform Efforts Survey. Were it not for their willingness to graciously share of their experiences and insights, this study would not have been possible. This study was also made possible through generous financial support from the John Templeton Foundation and the Smith Richardson Foundation. The findings, interpretations, and conclusions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and should not be attributed in any manner to the College of William and Mary, AidData, The World Bank, its Board of Executive Directors, or the governments they represent.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The World BankWashingtonUSA
  2. 2.AidData, Global Research InstituteThe College of William and MaryWilliamsburgUSA

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