Grant from Catholic Relief Services will help to evaluate local governance in Malawi

Author: Meg McDermott


Catholic Relief Services (CRS) recently awarded a grant to Professor Jaimie Bleck and the Notre Dame Initiative for Global Development (NDIGD) to evaluate a program aimed at improving local governance in Malawi. This award comes as part of a larger, five-year, USAID Food for Peace-funded project titled UBALE.

Crs Malawi

UBALE, which means “partnership” in Chichewa, the predominant language in Malawi, takes a comprehensive approach at alleviating poverty. Areas of project intervention include health, agriculture, business development, gender equality, and local governance. The study will focus specifically on the evaluation of local governance interventions.

Beginning in 2015, in order to increase accountability and transparency, the Government of Malawi (GOM) publicly announced a Public Sector Reform agenda that includes enhancing decentralization as well as other key reforms. The commitments made by the GOM through the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development include greater fiscal decentralization of the development budget, administrative decentralization (of staff currently working for line ministries but at the local level) and revisions to the Local Government Act and the Chiefs Act. The renewed elected local government structure, coupled with the GOM commitments, create an opportunity for substantive reform that, if implemented well, could improve local services and accountability for average Malawians. The UBALE project aims to engage local governments to improve their capacity to serve the local communities. CRS will hold training sessions for local government committee members to achieve this.

NDIGD’s involvement is specific to southern Malawi, particularly the Blantyre Rural, Chickwawa, and Nsanje districts. Monitoring and evaluation specialists are tasked with researching whether or not, and the extent to which, training sessions are effective in improving local governments’ capacity. NDIGD will work closely with CRS and its partners to employ a delayed rollout process; of the 250 local communities across the three districts in Malawi, NDIGD will assign certain communities to receive the intervention during the first year of the project in 2016, with others not receiving the intervention until 2017. This will allow NDIGD to best compare the communities in determining the overall impact of the project.

A second component of NDIGD’s involvement includes researching the impact of government committee members’ uniforms. At the onset of the evaluation, NDIGD held focus groups and asked local committee members what barriers were preventing them from being effective in their role. Members suggested that formal uniforms would impact their self-efficacy, as they would look, and ultimately be treated as, authority figures within their communities. Taking this suggestion, NDIGD will randomize which committee members will receive uniforms, and ultimately determine if, and the extent to which, this impacts committee members’ effectiveness, or the community’s response to the government.

A third component of the project consists of researching the perception and role that gender plays within local government and women’s willingness to run for positions in the village committees. There has been a social push in recent years to ensure more female participation through quotas, but it is not clear whether that has translated into active participation and leadership. Currently, women mainly hold tertiary roles on government committees, or they are solely involved to represent their husband.

NDIGD is researching the perception of gender and leadership to better inform the cultural context of the project. Specifically, NDIGD is researching the perception of women in leadership positions, and the willingness of women to take on leadership roles. Answers to these questions will better inform both the context for this project, as well as CRS projects in the future.

NDIGD Monitoring and Evaluation Specialists Danice Brown and Tushi Baul will be working on the evaluation with Jaimie Bleck, Ford Family Assistant Professor of Political Science, and PhD students Emily Maiden and Juan Valdez, and undergraduate student Samuel Lucas are also involved in the project.

Baseline data collection will begin in mid May of this year, with endline data being collected in May of 2017. Future rounds of data collection will look at the sustainability of impacts detected in the first year.  

An integral part of the University’s Keough School of Global Affairs, NDIGD works to promote human dignity through applied research, assessment, monitoring, evaluation, and training. The Keough School, scheduled to open in August 2017, will prepare students for effective and ethically grounded professional leadership in government, the private sector and global civil society, engaging them in the worldwide effort to address the greatest challenges of our century.

Contact: Meg McDermott,

Originally published by Meg McDermott at on April 26, 2016.