The Building State Capability (BSC) program at the Center for International Development (CID) at Harvard University researches new strategies and tactics to build the capability of public organizations to execute and implement.

The BSC program is exploring the potential of a Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) approach, which rests on four core principles:

local solutions for local problems
pushing problem driven positive deviance
try, learn iterate, adapt
scale through diffusion

Recent Publications

Trust, Voice, and Incentives: Learning from Local Success Stories in Delivery in MENA

Brixi, Hana, Ellen Lust, and Michael Woolcock. 2015. “Trust, Voice, and Incentives: Learning from Local Success Stories in Delivery in Mena”. Publisher's VersionAbstract
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is a rising middle-income region, and its citizens rightly expect quality public services. Yet too often they experience disappointment: students attending local schools are insufficiently prepared for the 21st century economy, and those needing health care too often find that public clinics have no doctors or medicines. Few in positions of authority are held accountable for such shortcomings. This situation both undermines the potential for improvement and heightens people’s unhappiness with the delivery system. Although dissatisfaction with education and health services is widespread in the MENA region, local successes do exist and offer inspiration. At the Kufor Quod Girls’ Secondary School in the rural West Bank, for example, Ms. Abla Habayeb, the school’s principal, provides her teachers with daily encouragement and support, and she involves community members, parents, and teachers in decisions about improving the school. Teachers, students, and the community then reciprocate that commitment. Thus, amid the surrounding poverty and instability, Kufor Quod girls excel in national tests. Similarly, in some poor villages in Jordan and Morocco, the leaders of schools and clinics are reaching out to the community, inspiring citizens’ trust and engagement through transparent and inclusive decision making and the delivery of excellent services. Learning from such local successes is vital because there are no blueprints for solving service quality problems. Countries around the world are striving to improve education and health care quality. But simply modernizing school and hospital facilities and training staff are no longer sufficient. Delivering quality services requires motivated staff. And staff motivation arises in turn from values and accountability, which are grounded in the wider political, administrative, and social rules, practices, and relationships. Providing high-quality services is hard; the World Bank itself has struggled to ensure that its projects enhance incentives in country systems to achieve better learning and health outcomes. We argue that because of the complex circumstances found in MENA countries, it is necessary to build on evidence of local successes and positive trends at the level of institutions, performance, and citizens’ trust and engagement. We hope that this report and its recommendations will help citizens, civil servants, policy makers, and donors alike jointly identify and build on the present foundation to improve the delivery of social services, shifting the cycle of performance into a virtuous gear. An improved cycle of performance is what those living in the MENA countries deserve and what would enable them to fulfill their hopes and dreams for the future.

Does successful governance require heroes? The case of Sergio Fajardo and the city of Medellín: A reform case for instruction

Andrews, Matt, and Alejandro Fajardo. 2014. “

Does Successful Governance Require Heroes? the Case of Sergio Fajardo and the City of Medellín: A Reform Case for Instruction

”. Publisher's VersionAbstract
The city of Medellín, Colombia was a cauldron of violence with 185 homicides per 100,000 people in 2002. By 2006, this rate had declined to 32.5. Such successful transformation was termed the ‘Medellín miracle’ and credited to policies of the city’s mayor, Sergio Fajardo. Fajardo came to office in 2004 and led a series of reforms that observers call visionary. The story of Medellín’s revival starts before Fajardo took office, however, and involved many more people than the mayor. This abridged version of the story offers instructors a classroom case to discuss leaders and leadership in governance reform.

Why Distributed End Users Often Limit Public Financial Management Reform Success

Andrews, Matt. 2014. “

Why Distributed End Users Often Limit Public Financial Management Reform Success

”.Abstract
Externally supported Public Financial Management (PFM) reforms often have limited success in developing countries. The reforms commonly introduce new laws and systems that are not fully implemented or used, especially by distributed agents—budgeters, accountants, and such in sector ministries, provinces, and districts. This article asks why this should be expected and what could be done about it. It builds a theory of institutional change and tests such using data from a survey of public sector accountants in Eastern and Southern African countries—one sub-set of which was distributed. The evidence supports a simple explanation of why distributed end users often limit PFM reform success: they are likely to support incumbent institutions and question reform alternatives and are less engaged in reforms than more concentrated agents who champion reforms. The article suggests that research and practice needs to better account for the influence of distributed agents on externally supported reform success.
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Spotlight

Doing Development Differently: The Manifesto

We pledge to apply these principles in our own efforts to pursue, promote and facilitate development progress, to document new approaches, to spell out their practical implications and to foster their refinement and wider adoption.