Beyond critique: Revised approaches to community-driven development. An inception paper.

The ‘Beyond Critique’ project is an International Rescue Committee research study supported by DFID


Recent rigorous impact evaluations of community-driven development (CDD) programming across multiple locations have yielded limited or null findings. This has led to calls for a programmatic overhaul of CDD approaches, including more realistic goal-setting, greater specificity over intended outcomes and the explicit articulation of more robust change pathways linking CDD activities to desired outcomes in theoretically informed and credible ways. The ‘Beyond Critique’ project is an IRC research study, supported by DFID Research and Evidence Division funding, that attempts to build from these and other critical reflections, interrogating core assumptions implicit in how CDD is generally practiced and explained, with a view to synthesising and advancing the intellectual labour necessary for the emergence of newer, more transparent and more clearly articulated CDD programming approaches.

The purpose of this inception paper is to frame the ‘Beyond Critique’ project, outlining the policy, practice, evidence and theoretical frame of reference within which this project takes place. This paper articulates the motivation for the project and reflects the first stages of the conceptual work on which the project will be developed.

The background of this paper is derived from a literature review conducted within the first two months of the inception period. The objective of the review was to identify and summarize the literature on the theoretical motivations for the conventional CDD approach, the lessons learned from various evaluations and the evolution of CDD approach or policy.

The paper is divided into two main sections: the first focuses on the policy, practice and evidence, while the second undertakes the intellectual exercise of unpacking theoretical frames of reference for the act of rethinking and redesigning CDD. Section one begins with definitional questions and then examines the current state of evidence around what is known about CDD. This is followed by a review of major (unanswered) questions generated by recent impact evaluations and an analysis of current and future World Bank policy directions on CDD, especially as this relates to adapting standard CDD models. These strands of analysis are drawn together in a final sub-section which attempts to distil the importance of a continued engagement with CDD design questions, addressing the question of ‘why bother’ continuing to work on CDD in light of such disappointing evaluation results.

The second section begins with an attempt to reconstruct the different theoretical foundations of CDD. Two thought experiments, or attempts to rework CDD are then discussed in order to highlight some of the challenges and difficulties involved in moving beyond habitual programmatic (and associated theoretical) assumptions. The core of this theory section then focuses on an elaboration of four applicable conceptual frameworks to frame how the Beyond Critique project will approach the process of developing alternative CDD approaches.

The evaluation catalog (as an Excel file) is appended together with the inception report. This gives programme and general study information, outlines the methodology used and provides short summaries of the results.


Bennett, S.; D’Onofrio, A. Beyond critique: Revised approaches to community-driven development. An inception paper. International Rescue Committee, New York, USA (2014) 34 pp.

Published 1 January 2014