Dr. Linn Hammergren

Henry G. Schermers fellow for the period of 1 February 2013 - 31 July 2013

In 1986, while working as an in-house consultant for USAID/Peru (in theory a break from university teaching), volunteered to design a new judicial reform project, and once immersed in the topic, Linn never looked back. After 12 more years as a USAID consultant managing their Latin American projects in the field, Linn went back to Washington on a USAID fellowship to write up the experience and got hooked on the writing as well. Many years later, 10 of them with the World Bank, she is again consulting and writing and still learning the issues.

During the period of her fellowship she engaged in a research project entitled: Improving Judicial Reform Assistance: Toward a More Productive Use of Donor Country Experience in Developing Country Contexts. The project focused on the drafting of a short book inspired by the idea that most donor-supported rule of law or justice reforms in developing countries overlook the donors' experience with reform back home. The work is based on her own experience (25 years with donor programmes and related research), "the literature," and the opportunity while in the Netherlands to explore some European justice sector programmes. It has three purposes: pulling order out of the current chaos by establishing a relational hierarchy among the strands of donors' on-going rule of law and related assistance programmes; sorting what we know (have learned) from what we don't know about improving justice sector performance and suggesting how to build on past lessons while simultaneously exploring new approaches and unanswered questions; and identifying how donor countries' own reforms and reform dilemmas can be more productively incorporated into assistance work.

Workshop on improving donor assistance to justice reforms in developing and transitional countries

After 25 years (40 counting earlier Law and Development) of donor efforts to promote “justice” (or “judicial”) reform in developing countries, many are questioning whether we have made any progress, substantively (things are improving) or conceptually and theoretically (we have a better understanding of what we are attempting and how to go about it). Although all donor assistance is currently criticized for its limited ability to improve anything, justice reform faces a series of additional impediments to success. Most of these are well known and include such factors as overly ambitious objectives; ease of entry into the area and the consequent proliferation of often poorly-prepared participants; inadequate knowledge transfer among all stakeholders; and insufficient ownership of or lack of interest in programs on the part of recipient country governments and sector institutions. Many of these obstacles might be overcome or would be less destructive were it not for a further characteristic – the programs’ lack of a strategic core, based both on a consensus on their aims and a realistic appreciation of what any outside agency can bring to their achievement. A core is not a recipe or a template, but rather a framework to orient the design of programs and organize a knowledge base that can be used to inform them.

The workshop is a tentative step in testing the feasibility of this idea. It brings together members of three groups that have been instrumental in shaping programs and debates – donor agency staff, academics who have worked on relevant themes, and members of First World judiciaries familiar with assistance programs – and asks them to use their experience and perspectives to explore a series of questions suggested by the workshop organizers. The objective is to move beyond the somewhat generic criticisms and explanations we have all offered and instead see whether we can form a common understanding on the challenges and obstacles more specific to justice programs, the potential for overcoming them, and how, if possible, this could be done

The questions for discussion are as follows:
• What objectives do donors claim to be pursuing in their assistance programs and are they feasible? Are they individually or collectively too ambitious? Are there certain objectives that donors could more reasonably substitute and if so, what are they? Is donors’ insistence on strategies, results frameworks and measurement of impacts realistic or is an ad hoc approach more likely to bring improvements?
• The failure thesis: have we really accomplished so little in the past 2-3 decades or are we ignoring some important accomplishments? If so, what are they? Are the answers different for justice reform and rule of law promotion? Is justice reform a special case, or are the extent of failure or success and the explanations for it reflections of the general state of development assistance?
• Judicial independence: what is it and how do we know it is there? Is independence only relevant for individuals or can/should it be thought of institutionally? Are there policies that can be promoted to enhance it or is it all a state of mind and of national politics? Have donor programs produced some changes, and with what results for judicial performance and/or rule of law?
• As regards the most common performance objectives – improving efficiency, quality, and access, and reducing corruption -- are there areas where donor programs have been more successful? If so, why? Is the answer different depending on the donor and/or region? What conditions success or failure – strategies and approaches? Countries to which applied? Amounts invested?
• Non-donor actors and their contributions: How important has academic research been for the project? Could it contribute more and if so, how? Are donors making a sufficient effort to involve their countries’ own justice institutions in the design and/or implementation of their programs? Are there practices and reform trends in the First World that could be usefully considered or incorporated or are the situations too different to make this practical? Are there other reservations about their involvement?
Organization and Format.