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

Has Sweden injected realism into public financial management reforms in partner countries?

Andrews, Matt. 2015. “Has Sweden injected realism into public financial management reforms in partner countries?”. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Public financial management (PFM) reform is a common part of many development initiatives. It generally involves promoting "good practices" in developing countries, embedded in frameworks like the Public Expenditure and Financial Accountability (PEFA) assessment (PEFA 2006). These include multi-year budgeting, competitive procurement, modern internal audit, and more. Such practices have proved effective in selected contexts and promise solutions to common problems in governments. Unfortunately, a growing literature shows that many governments do not solve their problems after years of adopting such solutions. Data reveal that governments commonly produce new laws that are not  enforced and budgets that are not effectively executed, and suffer from weak capacities in distributed units (like line ministries and local governments) after many finished projects (Andrews 2006, 2011, 2013; Porter et al. 2011; Wescott 2009). Studies tie these limits to a lack of realism in reform design and implementation (Andrews 2013; Andrews, Pritchett and Woolcock 2012; Booth 2011; Levy 2013; World Bank 2012). They argue, essentially, that reforms commonly fail to allow for necessary adaptation of external ideas to the realities in targeted contexts, often because the reform processes focus too narrowly on introducing the external good practice in principle and pay little attention to the practical difficulties of doing so in practice. Studies suggest, for instance, that such reforms pay insufficient attention to the political and administrative difficulties of effecting change, and that these difficulties commonly undermine reform results. Where studies see more effective and far reaching reform they often find that the externally nominated "good practices" are fitted to the targeted context through more adaptive processes that emphasize the real and practical issues of doing reform (like building reform support, testing and adjusting reform designs, and continually matching solutions and capacity realities and needs) (Andrews 2015; Andrews et al. 2014; Cabri 2014; Levy 2013). These studies call for approaches that allow more realism in reform processes in developing countries, especially those supported by multilateral and bilateral donors. They do so knowing that similar calls have been made before; and that there are already many examples of such realism in the development community. There is, however, a challenge to identify these examples and describe what such processes look like in practice. This search leads quickly to a focus on bilateral donors. A small and interesting set of work suggests that such donors might have a comparative advantage in introducing more realism to PFM-type reforms in developing countries, given their own country’s recent experiences with doing such reforms. The argument is simply that development agencies from these countries can leverage the real experiences with doing reform in their own contexts when engaging with reformers in developing countries. They can, for instance, access experienced reformers to share lessons on issues like building demand for change, establishing political support for reform, and adapting reform ideas to context. Such lessons are often learned best through experience and remain tacit in those who have been through the experience. Bilateral agencies arguably have an advantage in accessing such people and their lessons, and can more effectively incorporate this valuable knowledge into their reform support than multilateral agencies. This paper offers a novel analysis of this theory, asking whether Swedish development agencies working in the PFM field have leveraged the potential comparative advantage of the country’s own experience in supporting reform. The country’s own reforms have resulted in effective Sweden-specific adaptations of many of the good practices being promoted in developing countries today (including multi-year budgeting and modern accounting and audit). Academic descriptions of these reforms emphasize the processes by which they were adopted and the realism involved in such, and suggest the presence of many applied and tacit lessons one could see as valuable in developing countries (about testing reform ideas, for example, progressing gradually in reform processes, creating an urgent pressure for change, and building support for reform). The question asked here is whether Swedish development agencies bring these lessons into their support for PFM work, building on a potential advantage to promote realism in reform. After introducing this question in an opening section, the paper provides a study of Swedish development agency engagement with PFM, in three domains: at the global level (where the development community has identified what "good" reforms should entail) and in two country-level experiences (Mozambique and Cambodia). The study uses process analysis to examine Swedish engagement in these domains (and reflects on "Swedish" involvement broadly, not on anyone development agency3). This approach offers a historical rendering of engagements since the late 1980s, based primarily on documentary evidence. There are limits to this kind of study, discussed in the methods section, but its strength is in allowing a view of reform support over time. A conclusion notes that this view shows repeated attempts by Swedish development agencies to bring realism into their reform engagements. This has sometimes involved drawing on their own country's reformers and reform experience, although there does seem to be less of this than one might expect given the scope and success of the country’s own reforms. One explanation for this centers on evidence that Swedish reform engagements attempt to bring realism into their engagements by promoting a process-oriented way of doing development within its development agencies and with partner countries (not just by drawing on their own-country experience). This finding leads to a revision of the argument about how bilateral and multilateral agencies can promote realism in development. Another concluding observation notes that all efforts to bring realism have been less prevalent and effective in the past decade. Explanations are offered for this as well, including the growing importance of budget support in developing countries and the focus on highly specified and generalized PFM products—rather than process.

Building capability by delivering results: Putting Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) principles into practice

Building capability by delivering results: Putting Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) principles into practice
Andrews, Matt, Lant Pritchett, Salimah Samji, and Michael Woolcock. 2015. “Building capability by delivering results: Putting Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) principles into practice,” 123-133. A Governance Practitioner’s Notebook: Alternative Ideas and Approaches. Paris: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 123-133. Publisher's Version

Being Special: The Rise of Super Clubs in European Football

Andrews, Matt. 2015. “Being Special: The Rise of Super Clubs in European Football”.Abstract
Professional football clubs are ubiquitous in Europe. Every small to medium sized city has one. But most cities do not have an F.C. Barcelona or Bayern Munich or Manchester United. These are among the ‘super clubs’ of Europe: they win more games, attract more supporters, and make more money than other clubs. These clubs were not always the juggernauts one sees today, however. This paper looks at how they emerged. It tells more of an economic story than a sporting one, recounting a narrative similar to that one might tell about the emergence of successful multinational companies. According to this narrative, super clubs rise by producing increasingly more complex products because of expanding productive capabilities, providing growing opportunities for economic spillovers in the process. As indicated, this narrative focuses particularly on the ‘capabilities’ that have helped super clubs emerge. This focus draws on an emerging theory about economic complexity, which is used to frame the paper and is briefly introduced in section two (following an introduction to super clubs). The theory posits that production results from the creative combination of economic capabilities—or know-how. Some products require few common capabilities, are produced by everyone, and have relatively low value: like the average football club. Other products require many capabilities (including some that are rare), have high value, and are produced by a select group: like the super club. This theory is used to suggest two hypotheses about how football clubs become super:
  • First, clubs do not become super by just producing better versions of the same products (a successful football team). Instead, over time, these clubs produce more complex, higher-value, globally consumed products.
  • Second, clubs become super by accumulating new capabilities (or know-how) over time, manifest in new skills and people accessed through a range of ‘catalyst capabilities’ that source the skills. The catalyst capabilities include engagement mechanisms (through which skills are located and contracted), capital, infrastructure, and adaptive leadership.
These hypotheses are put to the test in this study. Section three discusses the method used in such analysis, which is a version of systematic process analysis. It involved tracking the rise of four (generally agreed) super clubs—F.C. Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, and Real Madrid—and two clubs that are potentially rising into this group—Manchester City and Swansea City. The work centered on identifying and examining key moments in the histories of the clubs, flushing out the factors that influenced their rise, and translating evidence into common narratives about how super clubs emerge. The findings are contrasted with evidence from historical experience in clubs that enjoy close proximity to the focal clubs but are (arguably) not ‘super clubs’ (like Espanyol, TSV 1860 Munich, Stockport County and Bury, and Rayo Vallecano). Section four offers findings from the analysis. It shows, first, that all of the super clubs have indeed seen a ‘complexification’ of their product lines—moving progressively towards a more complex and diverse set of services and products revolving around the club ‘brand’. Second, the changes in production are clearly facilitated by expanded capabilities. These include expanded skills and people and catalyst capabilities like engagement mechanisms, capital, infrastructure, and adaptive leadership, which have all been growing with time:
  • For instance, all of the clubs started with generalist players and managers but gradually employed specialist players and managers. This has led to the clubs now having large and highly diversified playing and non-playing personnel. The catchment area of this talent has also grown, with skills increasingly sourced from other countries and professions and sectors (showing that skills needed to be super come from a broad community).
  • The engagement mechanisms through which new ‘skills and people’ were found are impressive. They include factors outside of the clubs’ control—like economic and political and legal changes that fostered the mobility of skills and people. They also include club-specific global scouting mechanisms, internal football academies, and networks of feeder clubs. Commercial linkages have also helped engage new business skills.
  • Capital matters in all cases, and is manifest in both direct contributions of money and in the more general support of paying customers and sponsors willing to contribute to club coffers. Capital sources have diversified and became more complex over time in all the super clubs.
  • Infrastructure capabilities also matter a great deal. Super clubs started out with small, locally accessible stadiums where they met, trained, played, and did everything else. Over time, however, the stadiums grew in size, were connected to transportation infrastructure that allowed greater accessibility beyond the local community (through regional roads and trains and even international airports) and added properties to allow for separated match, training, development, and business activities.
  • A set of supporting capabilities inside and outside the clubs has also proved vital to foster the emergence of the more complex production in these clubs. These are called ‘adaptive leadership’ capabilities and manifest in clear actions of people in club and local government leadership—to respond to threats and opportunities, learn from other experiences, promote new vision in the face of opposition, establish formal and informal negotiation mechanisms and partnerships, and more.
A conclusion summarizes the paper’s findings by suggesting a simple acronym describing capabilities that foster the rise of super clubs: Special (Skilled People, Engagement mechanisms, Capital, Infrastructure, and Adaptive leadership). It summarizes the story about how emergent and expanded capabilities have fostered production complexity in these clubs, and draws conclusions about the likely capability differences between today’s average and great clubs. The ending commentary discusses how this study adds to literature on sports economics and the economics of complexity. It suggests ways in which future work can build on these contributions. Research supported by the International Center for Sports Security (ICSS). All views and contents are those of the author alone and should not be seen to reflect the views of the ICSS.


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