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

The Challenge of Building (Real) State Capability

Andrews, Matt, Lant Pritchett, and Michael Woolcock. 2015. “The Challenge of Building (Real) State Capability”.Abstract

Efforts to build state capability often take the form of commonly used, highly designed and engineered best practice solutions that have worked in many other places and that we suspect (and hope) will work again in many contexts. Such interventions do sometimes work, especially when the treatment actually addresses problems that fester in the context. Where the contextual problems are different, however, the treatment is just isomorphic mimicry—it looks good but will not be a solution to problems that actually matter. Development organizations often cannot see this, however, and offer the same solution again and again—hoping for a different outcome but imposing a capability trap on the policy context, where a new diagnosis and prescription is actually needed. In some countries the treatment has an even worse impact, fostering premature load bearing—where the context cannot actually handle what is prescribed. How can development experts identify in advance where they will have such negative impacts, and how can they identify in advance where they need to do development differently? This paper addresses such questions, and introduces an approach to building state capability in the latter contexts (called 1804 contexts), called problem driven iterative adaptation.

Doing Problem Driven Work

Andrews, Matt, Lant Pritchett, and Michael Woolcock. 2015. “Doing Problem Driven Work”.Abstract

We often observe that more successful efforts to establish complex state capabilities are problem driven; focused relentlessly on solving a specific, attention-grabbing problem. This is the first principle of Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation, which we are introducing in pieces in a series of working papers over the coming months. The current working paper starts with a discussion about why problems matter as entry points to complex state capability building challenges. It then offers practical ideas and tools to help those trying to use problems to foster change (given the need to construct problems, deconstruct problems and then promote problem driven sequencing). The working paper should help readers who wonder why we emphasize problems as entry points and positive motivators of change (we don’t agree that problems demotivate or disempower) and how we work practically to define and tackle problems.

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.” A Governance Practitioner’s Notebook: Alternative Ideas and Approaches, 123-133. Paris: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 123-133. Publisher's Version
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We are delighted to announce PDIA: Building Capability by Delivering Results, a free two-part experiential online course that will provide you with the necessary frameworks and tools that you need to do PDIA in your context.