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How does anthropology help us understand bureaucracy?

Daniel Rogger's picture

Editor's note: This blog post is part of a series for the 'Bureaucracy Lab', a World Bank initiative to better understand the world's public officials.

A session of parliament
Photo: © Gennadiy Ratushenko / World Bank

Bureaucratic structures are complex. A given country’s norms and values can be difficult to comprehend for outsiders trying to engage in governance reform there. How can anthropologists help us understand the dynamics of a bureaucracy or government organization?
 
In rural Tanzania, more than seven million citizens lack reliable access to clean water. At any given time, 46 percent of rural water points need repair. An all too easy way to rationalize government shortcomings would be to label officials as lazy or corrupt. However, this statement oversimplifies the issue at hand and fails to dive deeper into the underlying bureaucratic structures that hinder successful service delivery.

10 Gov4Dev blog posts from 2017 you don't want to miss!

Ravi Kumar's picture
It’s that time of the year when we look at the blogs we have published over the last 12 months and curate some of the most insightful pieces for you to read.

We also want to thank you for reading, contributing and engaging on what it will take to help governments build capable, efficient, open, inclusive and accountable institutions.

What's the cost of open government reforms? New tool can help you find out

Daniel Nogueira-Budny's picture
Graphic: Nicholas Nam/World Bank

Advocacy around open government reforms to date has largely revolved around the intrinsic value of transparency, accountability, and participation. In a resource-constrained environment, development practitioners, policy makers, and citizens increasingly have to be more judicious. Adopting new methods or tools – such as open contracting mechanisms, open data dashboards and participatory budgeting – is not free. How can we measure the instrumental value of open government reforms?

What the World Bank missed when looking at the "law" in their Development Report 2017

Adrian Di Giovanni's picture
From left: World Development Report 2017 & World Development Report 2002

Editor’s note: This is the second installment of a two-part series. You can read part-one hereThe findings, interpretations and conclusions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the World Bank Group, its Board of Directors or the governments they represent.

The Word Development Report 2017 on Governance and the Law rightly frames law in social terms – “but one of many rule systems” – and instrumental terms – “an important tool in the policy arena… in shaping behavior, in ordering power, and in providing a tool for contestation.”

If the World Development Report 2017 had one or two more chapters on the law

Adrian Di Giovanni's picture
Photo: World Bank

Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a two-part series. You can read part-two hereThe findings, interpretations, and conclusions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the World Bank Group, its Board of Directors or the governments they represent.
 
The World Development Report 2017 on Governance and the Law has cast some much welcome attention on the role of law in development. Compared to other sectors, international aid to the justice sector has been relatively low: only 1.8% of total aid flows, compared with 7.4% and 7.5% for the health and education sectors respectively between 2005 and 2013. More than that, the WDR 2017 is commendable for successfully articulating a positive and coherent if cautious view of law’s role.

Five assumptions about bureaucracies that our data dispute

Daniel Walker's picture
 
Photo © Dominic Chavez/World Bank

This blog post is part of a series for the 'Bureaucracy Lab', a World Bank initiative to better understand the world's public officials.

In preparation for our upcoming conference – Innovating Bureaucracy (Nov 8-9; register here) – we thought it would be interesting to look across the globe at how the public sector may affirm or challenge our expectations. What characteristics do we most often associate with public sector bureaucracies? Perhaps we might think that they grow larger the older they become, or that bureaucrats are mostly older men with average educations.

Which comes first: good governance or economic growth? (Spoiler: it’s neither)

Yuen Yuen Ang's picture
Available in Chinese
Graphic: Nicholas Nam/World Bank

The idea that economic growth needs good governance and good governance needs economic growth takes us to a perennial chicken-and-egg debate: Which comes first in development—good governance OR economic growth? For decades, positions have been sharply divided between those who advocate “fix governance first” and others who say “stimulate growth first.”

Join us to discuss the role of citizens in building open, accountable and inclusive societies

Jeff Thindwa's picture



How can citizens’ actions help build a society that is more open, accountable and inclusive? In about a week, social accountability stakeholders from across the world will convene at World Bank headquarters to discuss just that, at the Global Partners Forum of the World Bank’s Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA). 

One-stop shops and the human face of public services

Jana Kunicova's picture
Graphic: Nicholas Nam/World Bank

Delivering pension or disability services may sound mundane, but if you have seen the recent award-winning movie, I, Daniel Blake, it is anything but. As the film poignantly demonstrates, treating citizens with respect and approaching them as humans rather than case numbers is not just good practice -- it can mean life or death. In the film, Mr. Blake, an elderly tradesman with a heart condition, attempts to apply for a disability pension. In the process, he navigates a Kafkaesque maze of dozens of office visits, automated phone calls, and dysfunctional online forms. All of this is confusing and often dehumanizing.

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