Among nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that work in developing countries, programs that seek to build democratic capacity in local communities have become an increasingly popular intervention. Now scholars are starting to examine whether (and how) such interventions actually work.

Three of those scholars—James D. Fearon and Jeremy M. Weinstein, who are both professors of political science at Stanford University, and Macartan Humphreys, a professor of political science at...

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