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DRC Civic Education Impact Evaluation

Civic education programs proliferated in the past few decades based on a strong belief that successful democratic consolidations require a strong and independent civil society that can mobilize and inform citizens who can then engage more effectively in politics, advocate on behalf of their own interests and hold their leaders accountable. Do these civic education programs really work? Are individuals exposed to these programs more likely to attain basic political knowledge, embrace democratic values, and engage more effectively in electoral and political processes?

The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) Impact Evaluation Study in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), designed by Professor Steven Finkel from the University of Pittsburgh, used experimental designs to address these questions. The study evaluated the IFES "Voter Opinion and Involvement through Civic Education" (VOICE) program – a large scale civic and voter education program – in the DRC in 2011, which utilized a boîte à images (or image box) civic education tool, where facilitators from community-based organizations presented community audiences with a variety of images designed to stimulate learning about decentralization and democratic development issues.

While the study found large differences between individuals in treatment and control villages in terms of knowledge of decentralization and elections, there were no corresponding effects on support for decentralization. The study also found negligible “spillover effects” from those exposed directly to the sessions to others in the same villages who are not exposed. Furthermore, higher quality session facilitation was associated with stronger knowledge effects, while the lapse of time since sessions were held was associated with fade-out effects of knowledge.

Implications of this study for future programming suggest that the use of visual sensitization tools was quite effective, especially for populations with high illiteracy rates. Given strong fade-out effects with time, the study suggests future programs should emphasize multiple exposures to help knowledge retention, and increase the likelihood of changes in attitudes. Future programs should also emphasize the training of facilitators and session organization to maximize knowledge gains and stimulate greater interest in engagement. Post-session discussions and sharing of materials should also be explicitly encouraged to promote greater spillover effects.