Principles of PDIA

The BSC team uses the 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


BSC PodcastLearn more about how the Building State Capability program is being applied.

What is PDIA?

Recent Publications

Incentivising Pro-Labour Reforms

Evans, Alice. 2019. “Incentivising Pro-Labour Reforms”. Abstract

This paper shows that countries may reduce labour repression if they perceive this as conducive to export growth. This paper traces what happened before, in the presence of, and then following the withdrawal of international economic incentives for pro-labour reforms in Vietnam and Bangladesh. The Government of Vietnam announced it would allow independent trade unions, in order to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and increase market access. Similarly, the Government of Bangladesh rescinded restrictions on unions, following global condemnation of Rana Plaza and fear of buyers leaving en masse. Both governments reduced labour repression to promote export growth. With high-level authorisation, Vietnamese and Bangladeshi activists and reformists became less fearful, and mobilised for substantive change. However, these economic incentives were short-lived: after Trump’s election, the USA withdrew from TPP; buyers continued to source from Bangladesh, and squeezed prices (without requiring labour reforms). Both governments then amped up labour repression - notwithstanding private regulation, economic upgrading, industry growth, and mass strikes.


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Reasons for Using Mixed Methods in the Evaluation of Complex Projects

Evaluations of development projects are conducted to assess their net effectiveness and, by extension, to guide decisions regarding the merits of scaling-up successful projects and/or replicating them elsewhere. The key characteristics of ‘complex’ interventions – numerous face- to-face interactions, high discretion, imposed obligations, pervasive unknowns – rarely fit neatly into standard evaluation protocols, requiring the deployment of a wider array of research methods, tools and theory. The careful use of such ‘mixed methods’ approaches is especially important for discerning the conditions under which ‘successful’ projects of all kinds might be expanded or adopted elsewhere. These claims, and the practical implications to which they give rise, draw on an array of recent evaluations in different sectors in development.
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Why Does Hirschmanian Development Remain Mired on the Margins? Because Implementation (and Reform) Really is 'a Long Voyage of Discovery'

A defining task of development is enhancing a state’s capability for policy implementation. In most low- income countries, alas, such capabilities seem to be stagnant or declining, in no small part because dominant reform strategies are ill-suited to addressing complex non-technical aspects. This has been recognized for at least six decades – indeed, it was a centerpiece of Albert Hirschman’s understanding of the development process – yet this critique, and the significance of its implications, remain on the margins of scholarship and policy. Why? I consider three options, concluding that, paradoxically, followers of Hirschman’s approach inadequately appreciated that gaining more operational traction for their approach was itself a type of problem requiring their ideas to embark on ‘a long voyage of discovery’, a task best accomplished, in this instance, by building – and tapping into the distinctive insights of – a diverse community of development practitioners.
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Who Wins in the World Economy and English Football?

Globalization has fed significant economic gains across the world. The gains lead some policymakers in developing countries to believe in the potential of ‘catch up’—where they leverage the gains of an open world economy to foster rapid progress and compete with more developed nations. This belief is particularly evident in countries like Rwanda, where policymakers aspire to turn the country into ‘Africa’s Singapore’. This paper asks if such aspiration is realistic: Do developing countries really gain enough from globalization to catch up to more developed countries? The paper examines the world economy as a league in which countries compete for winnings (manifest in higher income and production). Wealthier countries are in the top tiers of this league and poorer countries are in the lower tiers. The paper asks if gains from the last generation of growth have been distributed in such a way to foster ‘catch up’ by lower tier countries, and if we see these countries ‘catching up’ by moving into higher tiers. This analysis of the world economy is compared with a study of English football, where over 90 clubs play in an multi-tier league system. Prominent examples of ‘catch up’ in this system include Leicester City’s rise from the third tier in 2008 to become first tier champion in 2015. The paper asks if such ‘catch up’ is common in English football, given the way winnings are distributed, and if ‘catch up’ is more common in this context than in the world economy more generally.

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Spotlight - BSC at GEM 2019

BSC GEM19 Video

At GEM 2019, Jorrit de Jong, Matt Andrews, and Salimah Samji raised the question: "how can governments better implement policies?" In the presentation, Jorrit de Jong discussed the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative and its mission, and Matt Andrews made a case for the best way to measure success in politics.