In rich and poor countries alike, a core challenge is building the state’s capability for policy implementation. Delivering high-quality public health and health care – affordably, reliably, at scale, for all – exemplifies this challenge, since doing so requires deftly integrating refined technical skills (surgery), broad logistics management (supply chains, facilities maintenance), adaptive problem solving (curative care) and resolving ideological differences (who pays? who provides?), even as the prevailing health problems themselves only become more diverse, complex and expensive as countries become more prosperous.
The current state of state capability in developing countries, however, is demonstrably alarming, with the strains and demands only likely to intensify in the coming decades. Prevailing ‘best practice’ strategies for building implementation capability – copying and scaling putative successes from abroad – are too often part of the problem, while individual training (‘capacity building’) and technological upgrades (e.g., new management information systems) remain necessary but deeply insufficient. An alternative approach is outlined, one centered on building implementation capability by working iteratively to solve problems nominated and prioritized by local actors.
A long-standing literature in the sociology of organizations (e.g., DiMaggio and Powell 1983) suggests that, as change agents face uncertainty about actions and outcomes, they often seek legitimacy through isomorphism: adopting structures, policies and reforms similar (at least in appearance) to those deemed successful elsewhere. We examine history’s most rapid reduction of fertility—from 8.4 in 1985 to 2.4 in 2002, in rural Iran—as an example of successful autonomous reform. The Iranian state, which was self-consciously cut off from nearly all of the traditional vectors of global isomorphism, initiated a successful behavioral change in a domain (family planning) perhaps unexpected for an Islamic state. We describe and explain the Iranian approach, in particular the rural program, contrasting it with the global strategy of adopting universal "best practices."
Many countries, like Sri Lanka, are trying to diversify their economies but often lack the
capabilities to lead diversification programs. One of these capabilities relates to preparing the investment climate in the country. Many governments tackle this issue by trying to improve their scores on ‘Doing Business Indicators’ which measure performance on general factors affecting business globally (like how long it takes to open a business or pay taxes). Beyond these common indicators, however, investors face context specific challenges when working in countries like Sri Lanka that are not addressed in global indicators. Governments often lack the capabilities to identify and resolve such issues. This paper narrates a recent initiative to establish these capabilities in Sri Lanka. The initiative adopted a Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) process, where a team of Sri Lankan officials worked with Harvard Center for International Development (CID) facilitators to build capabilities over a six-month period. The paper tells the story of this process, providing documented evidence of the progress over time (and describing thinking behind the PDIA process as well). The paper will be of interest to those thinking about the challenges associated with creating a climate that is investor or business friendly and to those interested in processes (like PDIA) focused on building state capability and fostering policy implementation.
Many countries, like Sri Lanka, are trying to diversify their economies but often lack the
capabilities to lead diversification programs. One of these capabilities relates to engaging new investors—in new sectors—to bring their FDI and know-how to a new country and kick-start new sources of activity. This paper narrates a recent (and ongoing) initiative to establish this kind of capability in Sri Lanka. The initiative adopted a Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) process, where a team of Sri Lankan officials worked with Harvard Center for International Development (CID) facilitators to build capabilities over a six-month period. The paper tells the story of this process, providing documented evidence of the progress over time (and describing thinking behind the PDIA process as well). It shows how an investment engagement approach can emerge in a reasonably limited period, when a committed team of public officials are effectively authorized and engaged. The paper will be of particular interest to those thinking about investor engagement challenges and to those interested in processes (like PDIA) focused on building state capability and fostering policy implementation in public contexts.
Many countries, like Sri Lanka, are trying to diversify their economies but often lack the capabilities to lead diversification programs. One of these capabilities relates to targeting new sectors to promote and pursue through a diversification policy: countries know they are ‘doomed to choose’ sectors to target,1 but lack effective capabilities to do the targeting. This paper narrates a recent (and ongoing) initiative to establish this kind of capability in Sri Lanka. The initiative adopted a Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) process, where a team of Sri Lankan officials worked with Harvard Center for International Development (CID) facilitators to build capabilities. The paper tells the story of this process, providing documented evidence of the progress over time and describing the thinking behind the PDIA process. It shows how a reliable targeting mechanism can emerge in a reasonably limited period, when a committed team of public officials are effectively authorized and engaged. The paper will be of particular interest to those thinking about targeting for diversification and to those interested in processes (like PDIA) which are focused on building state capability and fostering policy implementation in public contexts.
We divide the 102 historically developing countries (HDCs) into those with ‘very weak’, ‘weak’, ‘middle’, and ‘strong’ state capability. Analyzing the levels and recent growth rates of the HDCs’ capability for policy implementation reveals how pervasively “stuck” most of them are.
Only eight HDCs have attained strong capability, and since most of these are small (e.g., Singapore, UAE), less than 100 million (or 1.7%) of the roughly 5.8 billion people in HDCs currently live in high capability states.
Almost half (49) of these countries have very weak or weak capability, and thus their long-run pace of acquiring capability is also very slow.
Alarmingly, three quarters of these countries (36 of 49) have experienced negative growth in state capability in recent decades, while more than a third of all countries (36 of 102) have low and (in the medium run at least) deteriorating state capability.
At current rates, the ‘time to high capability’ of the 49 currently weak capability states and the 36 with negative growth is obviously “forever”. But even for the 13 with positive growth, only three would reach strong capability by the end of the 21st century at their current medium run growth.
Many development challenges are complex, involving a lot of different agents and with unknown dimensions. Solutions to these challenges are often unknown, and contextually dependent. At the same time, there are political imperatives at play in many contexts which create pressure to ‘find the solution now…and then scale it up.’ Such pressure raises a question: how does a policy entrepreneur or reformer find a new solution and scale it up when dealing with complexity? This is the subject we address in the current paper, which is the fifth in a series on ‘how to’ do problem driven iterative adaptation (PDIA) (Andrews et al. 2015, 2016a, 2016b, 2016c).
The paper focuses on building broad agency solutions in the process of identifying problems and finding and fitting contextually appropriate solutions. The broad agency is, in our opinion, a most effective mechanism to ensure scaling and dynamic sustainability in the change process. As with other working papers on this topic, the contents here do not offer all answers to those asking questions about how to do development effectively. It closes by reflecting on the importance of ‘you’ (the reader, and ostensibly part of a policy change or reform team somewhere) using this and the other ideas as heuristics to rethink and reorient how you work—but with your own signature on each idea.
Many of the challenges in international development are complex in nature. They involve many actors in uncertain contexts and with unclear solutions. Our work has proposed an approach to addressing such challenges, called Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA). This paper is the most recent in a series intended to show how one can do PDIA, building on the first paper, "Doing Problem Driven Work.” The current paper addresses a key part of the approach one moves to once a problem has been identified, performing real-time experimental iterations. This is intended as a practical paper that builds on experience and embeds exercises for readers who are actually involved in this kind of work.
Development and state building processes are about change. Change is, however, elusive in many contexts. In prior work, we have offered problem driven iterative adaptation (PDIA) as an approach to tackle wicked hard change challenges. This is our fourth practical working paper on ‘how’ to do PDIA. The working paper addresses questions about authority, given that authority is needed to make change happen—especially in hierarchical government settings. This authority is often difficult to attain, however. It is seldom located in one office of person, and is often harder to lock-in with complex challenges, given that they commonly involve significant risk and uncertainty and require engagement by many agents responding to different kinds of authority. Every effort must be taken to address such challenges, and efforts should include an explicit strategy to establish an appropriate authorizing environment. This working paper suggests ideas to adopt in this strategy, with practical exercises and examples to help the reader apply such ideas in her or his own work.
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.
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.
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 any one 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.
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.
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.
This paper presents the case of World Bank support to the mass titling component of the Cambodia Land Management and Administration Project. This was a project for which there was clear national demand, as evidenced by the fact that the Cambodian government had already attempted to implement mass titling a decade previously, but had lacked the human and technical resources to complete it. The case describes a consensus between donors and a host nation government during the planning and approval of the intervention, which dissolves into conflict during implementation. Ultimately, the case raises questions about the ethics of intervention. When governments want approximately the rules of the game suggested by donors (functioning institutions to facilitate markets) but do not want a level playing field, how should this be understood and resolved? Must donors always be passively complicit in elite projects until domestic politics hold them accountable to their own rules?
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.
The incredibly low levels of learning and the generally dysfunctional public sector schooling systems in many (though not all) developing countries are the result of a capability trap (Pritchett et al. 2010). Two phenomena reinforce persistent failure of schooling systems to produce adequate learning outcomes. One is the mismatch between system design—the allocation of activities across organizations and mechanisms of accountability—and the insights of the 'new institutional economics' from principal agent models and contract theory. In particular, many education systems attempt to manage teaching and learning as a 'thin' or 'logistical' activity that can be managed with top-down control and an emphasis on compliance. The reality is that teaching is a 'thick' or 'implementation intensive' activity that performs better when teachers and operators of schools are given performance standards, have multiple in-depth accountability channels, and are given greater autonomy. The second phenomena that facilitates persistent failure is global isomorphism on enrollment and inputs (Meyer et al. 1977; Boli et al. 1985; Meyer et al. 1997). That is, the field (in the sense of Bourdieu 1993) of global education has produced a near exclusive emphasis on enrollments and duration in school, adequacy of physical inputs, and formal qualifications that allowed, perhaps encouraged, national systems to ignore completely performance on child-learning (of any type, measured in any way). I conclude with a comparison in India of the national governments recent efforts in basic education which have been almost exclusively isomorphic.
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.
Many public sector reforms in developing countries fail to make governments more functional. This is typically because reforms introduce new solutions that do not fit the contexts in which they are being placed. This situation reflects what has recently been called the 'capability trap' in development—which results in many interventions producing new forms that are not functional in states across the globe. The work on capability traps suggests that reforms can yield more functional influence in even the most complex states, however; if reformers adopt non-traditional approaches to doing reform. In particular, the work suggests that reforms will tend to be more contextually fitted if: (i) They are driven by problems that agents in the context care about; and (ii) They are introduced iteratively—through a stepwise process where ideas are tried and lessons are learned and used to adapt (or fit) ideas to context.
The capability traps work embeds these ideas into an approach to doing reform called Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA). This approach has deep roots in various literatures but many observers still ask how PDIA-type reforms could work to foster successful reform in complex hierarchical developing country governments and whether these approaches really help foster reforms that better fit such complex contexts. This paper responds to such question by describing an action research study where PDIA is being used to retell a story of reform that has to date been limited. The action research study is in Mozambique’s judicial sector and will examine whether and how a problem driven iterative approach can (i) flush out the contextual factors that often limit reform success, (ii) provide a viable route to find and fit reforms that actually foster greater functionality, and (iii) promote the authority needed to ensure change is implemented and institutionalized.