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‘Institutions’ and developing countries: the importance of building state capability for implementation. ‘Political Economy After the Crisis’ Week 9 April 3, 2014. The problem: in developing countries…. Historically unprecedented rates of progress, 1960-

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‘Institutions’ and developing countries: the importance of building state capability for implementation

‘Political Economy After the Crisis’

Week 9

April 3, 2014

the problem in developing countries
The problem: in developing countries…
  • Historically unprecedented rates of progress, 1960-
  • But low-hanging fruit mostly plucked
    • Stopped doing horrible things (at scale)
    • Completed (or know how to do) most ‘logistical’ tasks
      • Building schools, immunizing babies, paving roads
  • As development succeeds, importance of robust implementation capability only intensifies
    • Regulation, taxation, energy, criminal justice…
  • But trajectory of ‘institutional quality’ for most developing countries is flat, or declining
  • And current practice either ignores it…
    • …or deploys a fundamentally flawed approach
  • We can do better; here’s what it might look like

Mostly poor to mostly rich (?), 1700 – 2100Adapted from The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100by Robert Fogel (Cambridge University Press, 2004)




% of the world

that is ‘poor’

(i.e., hungry,










the best of times
The best of times…
  • For the average person, basic indicators of human well-being have never been better
    • most MDGs met in most places
    • higher average levels of education in Bangladesh now than France in 1960
    • relative (if not always absolute) levels of “dollar-a-day” poverty declining almost everywhere
    • Rapid decline of pandemics, crippling diseases (polio), famines, wars, etc
      • Charles Kenny, Stephen Pinker, Angus Deaton
    • Over 20th C, life expectancy almost doubled
and low capability organizations qog data few successes most countries going backwards
…and ‘low capability’ organizations (QoG data): few successes; most countries going backwards…
even on simple tasks
… even on ‘simple’ tasks
  • The capability of states to implement core responsibilities remains (disturbingly) low
    • ‘Simple’ tasks (logistics)
      • Delivering mail, dispensing drivers licenses
      • Getting teachers, doctors to just show up
    • ‘Moderate’ tasks
      • Social protection programs (Gupta 2012)
    • ‘Complex’ tasks
      • Land reform, Criminal justice, Regulation
      • Stagnating, declining ‘quality of government’
      • Unfinished historical tasks…
delivering the mail literally testing the post office in 157 countries
Delivering the mail (literally)—testing the post office in 157 countries

Includes not just Somalia and Myanmar but Tanzania, Ghana, Nigeria, Egypt, Russia, Mongolia, Cambodia, Honduras, Fiji, etc.

Source: Chong, et al (2012)

how current aid effort thinking is allocated
How current aid effort/thinking is allocated








looking like a state isomorphic mimicry in the solomon islands
Looking like a state: Isomorphic mimicry in the Solomon Islands
  • RAMSI: $millions spent on state-of-the-art courthouse, jail, training of judges, police…
    • ‘Institutions’ => ‘Success’
  • …vs ‘Justice Delivered Locally’, a decentralized system of island courts responding to everyday justice concerns of everyday people
    • ‘Success’ => ‘Institutions’
what we need
What we need








implementing an alternative
Implementing an alternative
  • Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA)
  • Part of the ‘Building State Capability’ Program
  • Center for International Development, Harvard
  • Local Solutions for Local Problems
  • Pushing Problem Driven Positive Deviance
  • Try, Learn, Iterate, Adapt
  • Scale Learning through Diffusion
    • i.e., Communities of Practice
origins applications
Origins, Applications
  • PDIA’s source material
    • History
      • Dan Carpenter on the origins of the US Post Office
      • David Tyack on the origins of the US education system
      • David Vincent on the origins of the UK education system
      • Alfred Chandler on origins of large corporations…
    • Complexity Theory
      • In biology, in nature, in computing, in cities
    • Social Science, Experience
      • Sociology of organizations (form ≠ function), ‘monocropping’
      • ‘Expertise’ as a limited source of legitimacy
  • Applications
    • Health delivery reform, Indonesia
    • ‘Justice for the Poor’, World Bank
    • Public Financial Management reform (Andrews 2013)
    • Engaging with ‘fragile states’
    • Implementation is a collective capability, learned – like every other complex task (music, languages) – by making lots of initial mistakes
which way up rcts vs qics
Which way up? RCTs vs QICs

Eppstein et al (2012) “Searching the clinical fitness landscape” PLoS ONE: 7(11): e49901

more details at
More details at…
  • Matt Andrews, Lant Pritchett and Michael Woolcock (2013) ‘Escaping capability traps through Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA)’ World Development51(11): 234-244
  • Lant Pritchett, Michael Woolcock and Matt Andrews (2013) ‘Looking like a state: techniques of persistent failure in state capability for implementation’ Journal of Development Studies 49(3): 1-18
  • LantPritchett, SalimahSamji and Jeffrey Hammer (2012) ‘It’s all about MeE: using structured experiential learning (‘e’) to crawl the design space’ Working Paper No. 104, WIDER (December 2012)
  • Michael Woolcock (2013) ‘Using case studies to assess the external validity of “complex” development interventions’ Evaluation 19(3): 229-248