Date of Award

Summer 7-24-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

First Advisor

Carew Boulding

Second Advisor

David Brown

Third Advisor

Krister Andersson


The exponential growth of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in developing countries is highly linked to the belief that NGOs can forward human and economic development while engendering democratic development. The ability of NGOs to simultaneously fulfill these two roles remains an open question. Voices critical of NGOs allege that when NGOs that step in mainly to fill gaps in service provision, they ultimately prevent local governments from developing their own adequate service provision institutions, because citizens stop holding government accountable and local governments fail to the build the necessary capacity for service provision.

These critical concerns are the motivating impetus of this research project. I argue that both the critical and supportive stories of NGOs can be true, but the most pessimistic perspectives that NGOs are undermining local governments are overstated. The places where the possibility of NGOs crowding out government is highest where local governments are weak and struggling. In these cases, it is true that NGOs can easily out-perform local governments, leading citizens to prefer NGO services over government services. Yet, NGOs are associated with greater amounts of contact with government. While their impact is likely to create a more robust relationship between citizens and government, I also argue they do little to build the government capacity relevant for long-term development.

To test my arguments, I consider three different categories of effects of NGOs: attitudes towards government, political behavior and outcomes using access to water as a case study. My work employs mixed methods to tackle these difficult questions. Using both qualitative and quantitative approaches, I test hypotheses about how NGOs affect service provision and attitudes locally, using Peru as a case study, and across Latin America.