Ten challenges in democracy support - and how to overcome them

Susan Dodsworth, Nic Cheeseman

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Democracy supporters face tough times. Authoritarian reversals across North and sub-Saharan Africa, combined with a lack of progress in the Middle East and Central Asia, have dampened funders’ enthusiasm for the endeavour. To better understand these setbacks, we identify ten challenges in democracy support. These are the challenges of: (i) difficult cases; (ii) authoritarian backlash; (iii) adapting to context; (iv) confronting politics; (v) managing uncertainty; (vi) unintended side-effects; (vii) a tight funding environment; (viii) defining and demonstrating success; (ix) competing priorities; and – exacerbating all the rest, (x) a limited evidence base. While much has been written about the need for more coordinated and politically intelligent engagement to meet these challenges, far less has been said about the need to improve our evidence-base and the way in which policy-oriented research is produced. We identify several strategies that policy makers and practitioners can use to advance the field. All require better bridges between research, policy and practice, so we offer concrete suggestions about how such bridges can be built.
Original languageEnglish
JournalGlobal Policy
Early online date30 Apr 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 30 Apr 2018


  • democracy support
  • foreign aid
  • democratization


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