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Matt Andrews

The Limits of Institutional Reform in Development: A Big New Book by Matt Andrews

Duncan Green's picture

There’s nothing like an impending meeting with the author to make you dig out your scrounged review copy of his book. So I spent my flight to Boston last week reading Limits (sorry the full title is just too clunky).  And luckily for the dinner conversation, I loved it.

Limits is about why change doesn’t happen, and how it could. It synthesizes the ‘groundswell’ of disquiet about the failure of the governance and institutional reforms that have been promoted for many years now by aid agencies like the World Bank. And it’s not just a whinge – there are plenty of ideas for how aid agencies can do better. The book is particularly useful for those working on fragile states – lots of the positive examples (as well as some failures) come from Afghanistan, Ivory Coast and elsewhere, although there is a bit of ‘why can’t everywhere be more like Rwanda?’ in there too.

Overall, the approach reminded me of Dani Rodrik’s great book, In Search of Prosperity, and Matt says Rodrik (a fellow Harvard prof) was influential in pushing him to nail down the always-elusive ‘so whats’.

Limits summarizes research and thinking from disparate disciplines, with lots of fascinating case studies (he’s put in the legwork to build a serious empirical basis for his conclusions). His big idea is captured in a new acronym, PDIA (Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation), which, as he pointed out, is similar to the Participatory Institutional Appraisal idea I raised in a recent blog. I’m not sure if PDIA will catch on – it could have done with a snappier title, as could the book – but the content is really important if you are interested in aid, institutions or governance.

So what does it say? Firstly, that we have a big failure on our hands. The spate of projects and programmes around institutional reform has at best a mixed record of success; in many countries institutions have actually deteriorated in terms of effectiveness, corruption etc.

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

The Wall Street Journal
World Bank Says National Anti-Corruption Authorities Need to Step Up

“The World Bank’s anti-graft unit says many countries aren’t following through with investigations of corrupt conduct discovered by bank officials.

The Integrity Vice Presidency referred 40 cases to governments and anti-corruption agencies for investigation in fiscal 2011, and 32 cases the year before, but the response has been underwhelming, bank officials said in a report released Friday.

“We expect national authorities to give proper attention and consideration to the Bank Group’s referrals of investigative information,” said World Bank President Robert Zoellick in an introduction to the report. ‘Ideally, this should lead to their undertaking competent investigations, prosecutions, and adjudication within the country—but it often has not.’”  READ MORE

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Research for Development
Rethinking African Governance and Development

“This article draws together the main strands of argument being developed by the Africa Power and Politics Programme (APPP), as reflected in this IDS Bulletin special issue. The central question is what kinds of governance arrangements work better to support the provision of the public goods that are essential to sustained and inclusive development in Africa. Evidence at local, sectoral and national levels is pointing to the overall conclusion that what works is often a ‘practical hybrid’, combining authoritative coordination with local problem-solving and constructive borrowing from local cultural repertoires. Consistent with the general idea of ‘going with the grain’, we find that the most likely source of the necessary vertical discipline is a developmental form of neo-patrimonialism, not ‘good governance’, as currently conceived. Similarly, local collective action to address bottlenecks in public goods provision is seldom enhanced by standard donor and NGO approaches to citizen or client empowerment.” READ MORE