As a political scientist specializing in the comparative politics of development, including particular attention to issues of governance and democracy, I have followed this year’s World Development Report with special interest. I have not been alone. WDRs usually attract attention, but this year’s report seems to have attracted more than most. Several constituencies have pushed for some time for a WDR on the topics addressed in this report, and there thus was a lot riding on it in terms of hopes and expectations for a strong statement on governance.
We’ve all had those hallway conversations or coffee meetings or been privy to overhearing those chats… the ones where we have quick exchanges on why so many ‘best practice’ polices – such as those designed to reduce teacher absenteeism-- continually fail on implementation. Or why policies such as energy subsidies are so difficult to get rid of when they are universally recognized as regressive and encouraging inefficient energy use.
That’s where today’s launch of the 2017 World Development Report (WDR) on Governance and the Law led comes into play. The new report, co-directed by Luis-Felipe Lopez-Calva and Yongmei Zhou, starts by acknowledging that all countries share a similar set of development goals: to minimize the threat of violence, to promote growth, and to improve equity. But too often, carefully designed, sensible policies to achieve these objectives are not adopted or implemented—and when they are, they too often fall short of achieving their goals. The report argues that the development community needs to move beyond asking “what is the right policy?” and instead ask “what makes policies effective in achieving desired outcomes?” As this WDR suggests, the answer has to do with governance—that is, the process through which state and non-state actors interact to adopt and implement those policies.
We chose to highlight this book for the World Development Report (WDR) 2017 Seminar Series as its focus on institutional functions rather than forms and on adaptation resonates strongly with the upcoming WDR 2017.
The first takeaway of the book, that a poor country can harness the institutions they have and get development going is a liberating message. Nations don’t have to be stuck in the “poor economies and weak institutions” trap. This provocative message challenges our prevailing practice of assessing a country’s institutions by their distance from the global best practice and ranking them on international league tables. Yuen Yuen’s work, in contrast, highlights the possibility of using existing institutions to generate inclusive growth and further impetus for institutional evolution.
Rationale and Goals
The World Development Report (WDR) 2017 seeks to shed light on how a better understanding of governance can bring about more effective policy interventions to achieve sustainable improvements in development outcomes.
The Report makes three main arguments. First, it illustrates how for policies to achieve development outcomes, institutions must perform three key functions: enable credible commitment, enhance coordination, and induce cooperation. Thus, laws and institutional forms matter only to the extent that they are able to generate these functions to induce the behavior of actors necessary to implement desired policies.
“What good is the law if laws are ignored or never enforced?” a young civil society activist asked us as part of a group discussion recently. We began to explain that the law should provide a framework through which power can be constrained and policies implemented- but the conversation had already moved on to a loud and frustrated debate about the myriad ways that lawmakers abuse their positions, steal public money and undermine governance through the law itself.
Many laws prohibiting a range of gender violence have been ineffective in reducing the prevalence of harmful practices. This is mainly due to the influential role that deeply rooted social norms—one of multiple and sometimes competing normative orders people adhere to—play in determining behavior and outcomes.
Gender-based violence (GBV) reflects power inequalities between women and men. Women and girls are more commonly the victims of GBV—a manifestation of power imbalance tilted in favor of men that characterizes many, mostly patriarchal, cultures around the world. Collectively shared norms about women’s subordinate role in society and violence against them can also perpetuate the power imbalance. In the upcoming World Development Report 2017 we discuss how norms can reinforce existing power inequalities in society and how change can happen.