The Political Economy of Democracy Promotion (Jan 2016 - Jan 2018)

wfd-partnership-logoLead academic: Professor Nic Cheeseman
Non-academic partners: Westminster Foundation for Democracy
Funder/ funding:
Westminster Foundation for Democracy


International donors – including the UK – spend more than US$10 billion on democracy promotion each year. Yet many democracy promotion programs are ineffective, and there is little research on how to improve them. This needs to change. Evidence shows that development aid improves the quality of life in democracies but not autocracies. Citizens in most developing countries also want democracy; surveys show, for example, that an overwhelming majority of African citizens prefer it to alternatives.

This project – The Political Economy of Democracy Promotion Project – aimed to improve our understanding of when, and how, democracy promotion works. It was a collaboration between the International Development Department at the University of Birmingham and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) – the main democracy promotion organization of the UK. Over the past twenty years, with funding from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development, WFD has worked to strengthen legislatures, assistant political parties and encourage the growth of civil society in countries in Africa, Europe and Central Asia, and the Middle East.

The project website can be found here:

Project aims and objectives

The research project combined the analytical strengths of academic researchers – Professor Nic Cheeseman and Dr Susan Dodsworth – with the practical experience of WFD.  By using a collaborative approach, the project allowed researchers to leverage the expertise of WFD - previously inaccessible to outsiders - to strengthen the evidence base that underpins democracy promotion policies and programs. The project used expert interviews, participant observation and documentary material to evaluate which types of democracy promotion programs are most effective, and in what contexts.

The aim of the project was to identify key lessons regarding the conditions under which democracy promotion activities are successful, and examine how such interventions can be improved. A host of policy relevant publications enabled practitioners to then improve their interventions. The project also established new avenues of communication between academics working on democratization and the policy community in this area.

Outputs to date

In March 2017, WFD hosted an international conference – Deliberating Democratization: Examining Democratic Change and the Role of International Democracy Support – as part of this project. That event brought together leading figures in the field of democracy support from Europe, North America, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and beyond. The conference provided an opportunity to exchange ideas and new ways of working, not simply between researchers and practitioners, but also between the distinct communities of practice that have developed around providing support for legislatures, political parties, civil society and elections.

The project has produced a number of publications, including several policy papers.

A full list of publications linked to this project is available here: