Published on Development Impact

Where and When is Community-Driven Development (CDD) Effective?

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An important question in development is about how best to “put people first,” or do development from the “bottom-up,” which emphasizes the role of beneficiary and citizen participation. 

There is an important distinction to be made here between organic and induced participation -  participation that is organically mobilized via social movements and endogenous collective action without state or donor involvement, and participation that is induced via large development projects. In this post we look at the Community-Driven Development (CDD) model, which is a broad term to describe induced participatory projects, and the evidence of where and when it can be effective.

This matters: governments and donors alike spend a lot on CDD projects, and the World Bank alone has invested over $100 billion in the last twenty-five years. As of June 2020, the Bank’s CDD portfolio includes 327 ongoing projects in 90 countries, representing $33 billion in active financing and 11% of WBG lending.


What is CDD?


Community-driven development (CDD) is a modality of project design and delivery which transfers decision-making power and, often financial and technical resources, directly to communities or groups of end-users. Concentrating decision making and management power locally, within the community, is proposed as a means of better aligning development interventions with community needs and preferences, and countering state weakness in service delivery by harnessing social capital. CDD is frequently used to deliver basic services, construct and maintain local public goods and infrastructure, maintain common property resources, and plan and manage community budgets.

Common features of CDD include (i) the creation of a local committee to manage the process or project; (ii) external facilitation to support decision making within the CDD framework; and (iii) a community contribution in cash or labor. However, CDD has evolved to include within its purview most projects that employ community participation in decision-making and management, and thus has a fair amount of overlap with projects that actively engage with citizens at the local level. CDD is thus not a type of intervention but rather a modality of project design and delivery.

Typically, CDD is used to provide public goods (schools, health facilities, roads, …) and manage common-property resources (lakes, community forests, …), but CDD has also been used to provide cash and credit for private goods to households or groups. Additionally, CDD programs often include institution-building objectives such as enhancing social capital or local governance through introducing more democratic and inclusive decision-making frameworks.


But does it work? It depends on the objectives, context, and nature of participation.


CDD programs in relatively stable settings can be effective in increasing the stock and management of local public infrastructure. When properly designed and implemented, they can have a substantial impact on maternal and neo-natal health, and child health and nutrition; in Uganda, for example, research finds that combining community accountability interventions with objective information leads to sustained improvements in health services delivery and outcomes. Community-managed schools and the CDD programs that support them can improve the quality of school infrastructure and, in some cases, improve teacher and student performance. Community participation can be an essential part of the effective management of common-property resources and thus critical to climate resilience (in India and Senegal, for example). Finally, CDD approaches that are women-focused can empower women by creating women’s groups and addressing credit market failures. Long-term CDD projects in India and Indonesia have mobilized millions of men and women to work on local development activities.

There is no evidence from impact evaluations that CDD increases social capital in the short-term. This may be due to challenges in defining and measuring outcomes which may only materialize in the longer term and are beyond the scope of existing evaluations (and beyond the scope of many donor-funded projects, which have a more ad hoc, short-term horizon). Finally, there is no evidence that CDD leads to poverty reduction in the short-term, regardless of context.


CDD is often proposed to rebuild physical infrastructure, service delivery, and informal and formal institutions under conditions of Fragility, Conflict and Violence (FCV), even though pre-requisites for CDD tend to be absent.


Indeed, CDD is highlighted in the World Bank’s FCV strategy as one of six areas for special emphasis. As noted in the strategy, “In fragile situations, engaging citizens to oversee service delivery and creating mechanism to reinforce their participation is critical to improving services and social cohesion.” However, evidence demonstrates that CDD is not a fix-all solution, nor is it a substitute for an ineffective state.

In FCV settings, CDD programs can be effective in increasing the stock and quality of infrastructure, and this can be sustained over the longer-term, but evidence on improving service delivery is more limited. In the DRC, for example, physical infrastructure built by the Tuungane CDD program endured eight years after the start of the program, but there was no evidence of impacts in other dimensions (service provision, economic welfare, governance, social cohesion). In such settings, CDD does not appear to lead to more inclusive or democratic institutions, however, and may even deteriorate local governance by being inconsistent with customary governance structures.


When can CDD be effective?


Complex interventions like CDD have uncertain trajectories of change. Consequently,  they do much better with very long-term engagement, good monitoring systems with feedback loops, and an adaptive approach to implementation.  CDD also works best when the efforts at enhancing bottom-up engagement are actively supported by a capable central state that has the back of local activists who are confronting local elites.  It thus requires a “sandwich” of capable institutions at the bottom and the top, and full integration with the relevant line ministries. 


These pre-requisites are often absent in FCV contexts, which means that CDD, like many other development interventions, becomes very difficult to implement.  It should not be thought of a substitute for a capable state.


Key takeaways


CDD can be used to provide infrastructure, health and education services, and improve many key development outcomes. Bank-assisted CDD programs have mobilized millions of women and men to work on community development.

CDD cannot occur in a vacuum nor is it a replacement for a functioning state. It requires a "sandwich" - where bottom-up development processes are met by a supportive state. Positive impacts (on infrastructure, service delivery, women’s participation and empowerment) occur when CDD is embedded in existing systems of sufficient quality, with strong attention to M&E systems and learning-by-doing.

CDD is not a fix-all solution and, like all models, has its limitations. It is a long-term approach that is most effective when given time (10-15 years) and space for course corrections.  No consistent evidence of impacts of CDD on poverty have been found, and it should primarily be seen as a way of harnessing communities to manage and provide goods and services that benefit from collective action. Programs based on direct transfers to households have demonstrated a higher return on investment in poverty reduction.   

CDD is unlikely to be fully effective in FCV settings or to reduce fragility, conflict, and violence. Evidence from such settings show impact on infrastructure and, in some cases, service delivery but no consistent evidence of impact on social and institutional outcomes. The widespread use of CDD in such settings should be rethought as the “pre-requisites” for success are often missing.

We are grateful to Berk Özler and Michael Woolcock for helpful comments.


Vijayendra Rao

Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank

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