Targeting, Accountability and Capture in Development Projects


  • Matthew S. Winters is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and a faculty affiliate of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His work focuses on foreign aid and economic development and has appeared in World Politics, Comparative Politics, Studies in International Comparative Development, Global Governance, International Studies Review and the Annual Review of Political Science, among other places.

  • Author's notes: Previous versions of this paper were presented at the 2009 American Political Science Association Annual Meeting, the 2009 International Political Economy Society Annual Meeting, the 2010 Midwest Political Science Association Annual Meeting, the 2010 Political-Economy of International Organizations Conference, Brown University, and the University of Iowa. For comments and useful discussions, thanks to Kate Baldwin, Sarah Bermeo, Bill Bernhard, Jake Bowers, José Cheibub, Xinyuan Dai, Simone Dietrich, David Epstein, Macartan Humphreys, Kate Ivanova, Phil Keefer, Dan Nielson, Bob Pahre, Laura Paler, Pablo Pinto, Dane Rowlands, Thania Sanchez, Alex Scacco, Gisela Sin, Tracy Sulkin, Udaya Waglé, Rebecca Weitz-Shapiro, Cara Wong, Jong-Sung You, and members of the IGERT Program on International Development and Globalization at Columbia University. Thanks to Amanda Cronkhite for valuable research assistance. The Niehaus Center for Globalization and Governance at Princeton University and the Mellon Fellows program at the Institute for Social and Economic Policy and Research at Columbia University provided financial support. Replication materials are available on the author's Web site.


If development projects are to be effective, a minimum requirement is that the funding reaches its intended destination. Yet the history of international development is replete with examples of this not happening. I argue that there will be fewer problems with corruption or other diversions of funding—which I jointly label capture—in more precisely targeted projects. More well-defined targeting results in superior accountability relationships because there is greater clarity of responsibility, clearer information about outcomes, and improved identifiability of stakeholders. I use an original cross-country, cross-project data set on the incidence of capture in World Bank-funded investment projects to test the theory. The data show a negative relationship between targeting and capture, and I demonstrate that this relationship is robust to a variety of specifications. In addition, I find that there is a higher baseline likelihood of project capture in countries perceived as more corrupt according to commonly used survey-based measures from Transparency International and the Worldwide Governance Indicators, cross-validating those measures and my own.