First the good news: a new evaluation report from a community driven reconstruction programme in Eastern Congo (HT: Sarah Bailey) shows yet again that it is possible to evaluate messy hard-to-measure governance interventions using rigorous quantitative methods. IPA and JPAL have an evaluation of a similar programme in Sierra Leone.
Now the bad news: this kind of design only works with interventions at the local level because you need a large sample size of units - in this case villages. National-level interventions give you a sample size of one, not very conducive for quantitative analysis.
And the worse news: these local level governance interventions don't seem to work. Both this Congo study and the Sierra Leone study find no improvement in local governance.
Now for some better news: we actually already know what a lot of the national-level governance interventions that need to be done are. They are boring. Things like audits of government accounts. South Sudan has finally just published the audit of the 2007 accounts, to apparent astonishment and outrage by parliamentarians. It's pretty grim reading. Though I'm not sure how anyone is actually honestly surprised. Still, it's probably not totally outlandish to think that audits done a bit quicker than 5 years after the fact might improve budget governance.
And now for the worst news of all: much of this easy, boring, national-level governance stuff is around accountability - which means the national leadership intentionally putting in place limits on its own power. Binding its own hands. You have to be an incredibly enlightened leader to purposely reduce your own power. The whole point of the politics game is increasing your own power. Which means that you need people to demand accountability and force leaders into action. And despite all the talk about governance from the international community, we aren't really interested or able to be the ones doing the demanding.