Sandwich Strategy Research

The “sandwich strategy” describes efforts to make governments more publicly accountable through mutually-reinforcing collaboration between reformers and broad-based citizen action. ARC is undertaking a comparative study of whether and how sandwich strategy initiatives drive pro-accountability institutional change, in Nigeria and in the global South more broadly.

What is the “sandwich strategy”?

The “sandwich strategy” describes an interactive process in which reformers in government encourage citizen action from below, driving virtuous circles of mutual empowerment between pro-accountability actors in both state and society.

The sandwich strategy relies on mutually-reinforcing interaction between pro-reform actors in both state and society, not just initiatives from one or the other arena. The hypothesis is that when reformers in government tangibly reduce the risks/costs of collective action, that process can bolster state-society pro-reform coalitions that collaborate for change. While this process makes intuitive sense, it can follow diverse pathways and encounter many roadblocks. The dynamics, strengths and limitations of sandwich strategies have not been documented and analyzed systematically. The figure below shows a possible pathway of convergence and conflict between actors for and against change in both state and society.

sandwich strategy

Comparative Research Method

This project is a comparative study of whether and how sandwich strategy initiatives drive pro-accountability institutional change, both in Nigeria and in the global South more broadly. To make a broader contribution to the TPA field’s understanding of the dynamics of accountability reforms, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s On Nigeria program has funded ARC to carry out an ambitious “medium N” comparative study of 20 sandwich strategy cases. The individual cases are from the global South—Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Colombia, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, The Philippines, and Sri Lanka. The diverse thematic areas of the cases include education, health, gender, housing, social protection, electoral reforms, and environmental protection.

“Medium N” Comparative Method

A “medium N” approach is based on analyzing approximately 10-20 cases to make comparative methods more robust. While often used by scholars in practice, the “medium N” approach is not yet widely recognized as a rigorous way to identify change pathways. ARC research on the sandwich strategy will contribute to learning about the strengths and limitations of this method and its possible relevance to transparency, participation, and accountability research.


The co-principal investigators on this project are Jonathan Fox and Rachel Sullivan Robinson, faculty of the American University School of International Service. Additional analytical support to the comparative research project comes from Naomi Hossain, Research Professor. ARC partners with the Centre for Democracy and Development in Nigeria and research consultant Oladeji Olaore on this project.

The project advisory group includes: Susanna Campbell, Jesse Ribot, Patrick Heller and Ibrahim Jibrin.

Case study authors include: Asha Abeyasekera, Joy Aceron, Robert Albro, David Bray, Ayesha Khan, Sohela Nazneen, Suchi Pande, Jessica Rich, Jean Samuel and Rebecca Tarlau.


August 2022: A draft paper from this comparative research is available for comment:

Building State-Society Synergy through Sandwich Strategies (Jonathan Fox, Rachel Sullivan Robinson, Naomi Hossain)

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