Building State Capability: Evidence, Analysis, Action

Matt Andrews, Lant Pritchett and Michael Woolcock
Oxford University Press, 2017

Governments play a major role in the development process, constantly introducing reforms and policies to achieve developmental objectives. Many of these interventions have limited impact, however; schools get built but children don’t learn, IT systems are introduced but not used, plans are written but not implemented. These achievement deficiencies reveal gaps in capabilities, and weaknesses in the process of building state capability.

This book addresses these weaknesses and gaps. It provides evidence of the capability shortfalls that currently exist in many countries, analyses this evidence and identifies capability traps that hold many governments back—particularly related to isomorphic mimicry and premature load-bearing. The book then describes a process that governments can use to escape these capability traps. Called PDIA (Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation), this process empowers people working in governments to find and fit solutions to the problems they face. This process is explained in a practical manner so that readers can actually apply tools and ideas to the capability challenges they face in their own contexts. These applications will help readers implement policies and reforms that have more impact than those of the past.

The book is available for purchase from Oxford University Press (UKUSA) or Amazon (UKUSA). The book is also available as a free download under a Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0). Creative Commons License

UPDATE: We are hosting a Book Launch on Monday, February 13, 2017 at Harvard Kennedy School. Check our calendar for details.



"Building State Capability provides anyone interested in promoting development with practical advice on how to proceed—not by copying imported theoretical models, but through an iterative learning process that takes into account the messy reality of the society in question. The authors draw on their collective years of realworld experience as well as abundant data and get to what is truly the essence of the development problem."

 - Francis Fukuyama, Stanford University; author of State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century


"The course was terrific from both a theoretical and practical standpoint. I was amazed about how accurately the issues addressed in the course related to my day-to-day experiences working in development. In fact, I have incorporated many of the ideas taught in this course in my own development work!"

- David Levy, Team Leader, Asian Development Bank, Dili, Timor-Leste


"The PDIA course has been for me the learning highlight of this year. The course has given me the knowledge of a process and tools that I was looking since traditional approaches to projects with best practices from elsewhere, solution-based, blueprint-based, with fixed plan, aiming always at system change, etc. do not work in most cases. I have now a set of steps and, more importantly, questions that can guide me in the work with colleagues and partners to understand the context in which we try to introduce change, identify concrete problems that people want to solve, and try to solve them, one at a time."

 - Arnaldo Pellini, Research Fellow, Overseas Development Institute