We love local. Whether it’s buying vegetables directly from your local farmer, frequenting a neighborhood business, or working as a community activist, many of us believe that solutions to some of our most pressing problems lie at least in part in a small series of actions taken from the ground up. This may be especially true in countries with limited state capacity, where community-based organizations (CBOs) are often among the highest-functioning entities at the local level. In some settings, producer cooperatives or savings and credit groups, for example, have stronger financial management capacity than local governments. Parent-teacher organizations, women’s associations, hometown associations, or other membership-based groups can be highly effective community mobilizers.
The challenges of electoral democracy are becoming increasingly visible worldwide. Elite capture, corruption and patronage are serious concerns, and the legitimacy of some elections has come under critical scrutiny. This has led to a revival of the idea of direct democracy – giving power directly to groups of people to make collective decisions.
Reform leaders who are persuaded by the need to invest in human capital face the challenge of getting thousands of state personnel, who staff myriad government agencies, to deliver. The quintessential “delivery unit” in Africa, a region flagged by the Human Capital Index as having the greatest need for health and education investments, consists of local governments helmed by appointed bureaucrats and locally elected politicians. In new research in Uganda, we find that the quality of local politicians, elected at humble levels in a village or district, is a robust and substantial predictor of delivery of national health programs. These results suggest that for the Human Capital Project to have impact it may need to move beyond creating political space for national leaders to allocate more public resources to health and education and take-on the challenge of local politics as key to service delivery at the last mile.
Running a local government is not sexy. It’s making sure that roads are maintained, there is water to drink, health clinics are stocked and staffed, and schools are equipped to teach. Often, it means doing these things with limited resources, infrastructure, and manpower. With few exceptions, there is little fanfare and glamour. It’s a bit like being a soccer referee: you’re doing a good job when no one notices you’re there.
Here is a one-page instruction manual for managing an effective public service. It is based on a recent World Bank Policy Research Working paper by Imran Rasul, Martin Williams and myself.
To what extent do politicians really keep bureaucrats focused on delivering public services? Politicians may distort the technical processes of the executive for political gain.
Blog reader: “Dan! The government is one big system. Why didn’t your blog on the latest research on the quality of governance take this into account?”
Dan (Rogger): “Well, typically frontier papers in the field don’t frame their work as ‘modeling the system’ [which do?] However, Martin Williams at the Blavatnik School of Government hosted a conference last week on ‘Systems of Public Service Delivery in Developing Countries’ that directly aims to discuss how research can take into account the systemic elements of governance.
The Annual Bank Conference on Development Economics (ABCDE) is fast approaching. The theme of this year’s conference is "Political Incentives and Development Outcomes" and papers selected for this year’s ABCDE are now posted online.
Last week I attended Stanford University’s Quality of Governance conference, expertly organized by a rising star of the field, Saad Gulzar. I thought I’d follow in the footsteps of Dave Evans and others and summarize the findings of the papers presented. They provide a sketch of the frontier of research on state capacity.
Are judicial reforms worth doing? It turns out, we cannot be sure, but we have a story to tell about a reform, its impact, and the impact of having measured that impact.