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.
Trabajando con orientación al problema (resumen):
A menudo observamos que los esfuerzos más exitosos en la construcción de capacidades institucionales complejas han estado orientados a un problema: es decir, se han enfocado todo el tiempo en resolver un problema específico que ha requerido toda la atención. Este es el primer principio de la Adaptación Iterativa Orientada al Problema, que iremos presentando por partes en una serie de documentos de trabajo durante los próximos meses. Este documento de trabajo comienza con una discusión sobre por qué son importantes los problemas como punto de partida, a la hora de encarar los retos de la construcción de capacidades institucionales complejas. Luego ofrece ideas y herramientas prácticas que ayudan a quienes están tratando de usar esos problemas para impulsar cambios (dada la necesidad de construir problemas, deconstruirlos y luego promover la secuenciación en torno a ellos). El presente documento pretende ayudar a sus lectores a preguntarse por qué hacemos énfasis en los problemas como puntos de acceso y posibles motivaciones al cambio (no estamos de acuerdo con que los problemas nos restan motivación o poder) y cómo trabajamos en la práctica para definir y enfrentar los problemas.
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.
This paper synthesizes the approach I take to looking at governance in nations states. The approach emphasizes ends as the starting point for any view of governance. (Asking about what governments do rather than how they do them). I also emphasize means; but in thinking about what it takes to produce ends, not as stand-alone factors. I provide some detail on the specific ends and means I look at in nation states and promote the idea of using governance dashboards and narratives to look at governance (not hold-all indicators). I also discuss how my approach might be useful in the current discussions about including a governance indicator in the post 2015 development goals. I expect that some will disagree and even disapprove with the approach I discuss, but I hope that the approach nonetheless offers a useful contribution to current discussions.
The coherence and effectiveness of engagement with the world's 'fragile and conflict-affected states'—beyond ethical imperatives and geo-strategic considerations—turns on answers to two vexing questions. First, on what defensible basis is any given country, at any given historical moment, deemed to be (or not to be) 'fragile'? Second, if a defining characteristic of state fragility is low levels of capability to implement core responsibilities, how can international agencies best support domestic public organizations to acquire capability? The first issue may appear to be a methodological one (wherein more and better data would provide a firmer empirical foundation on which to base key decisions) but any determination, especially of marginal cases, must also be grounded in a correspondingly comprehensive theory of change. Similarly, the optimal response to the second issue may appear to be importing technical and rigorously verified ('best practice') solutions, but in fact it is more likely to require a qualitatively different strategy, one able to experiment with alternative design specifications and adapt in real time to changing contextual realities (thereby iterating towards customized 'best fit' solutions). To this end, an alternative approach to the theory, measurement and practice of engaging with fragile states is outlined, in the spirit of rising concerns across the development community that prevailing strategies have demonstrably reached the limits of their effectiveness.
Andrews, Matt, Marco Cangiano, Neil Cole, Paolo de Renzio, Philipp Krause, and Renaud Seligmann. 2014. “This is PFM”. Abstract
The acronym PFM stands for Public Financial Management: But what is public financial management? This short note tries to demystify the concept, drawing on perspectives of specialists in the area who work in different contexts and bring different views (from academia, the multilateral and bilateral development agencies, think tanks, government, and civil society). The note is not meant to be prescriptive but rather offers an entry point to a fuller discussion on the constituent elements of PFM systems, how and why PFM reforms have emerged, and where the gaps are for future attention.
"Leadership" is not a common topic for research in international development. In recent years, however, prominent studies like the 2008 Growth Commission Report noted the importance of leadership in development. This and other studies focused on individual leaders—or heroes—when referencing what leaders did to foster development. The current article asks if heroes really lead development. It deconstructs the implied theory behind a ‘hero orthodoxy’ into four hypotheses; about how change happens in development, who leads it, how it emerges, and how it is bought to completion. Through a qualitative study of twelve interventions in contexts like Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and Kosovo, the article shows that these hypotheses are too simple to really help explain who leads development. It appears that change is complex and requires complex multi-agent leadership interventions.
Governments can play great roles in their countries, regions, and cities; facilitating or leading the resolution of festering problems and opening new pathways for progress. Examples are more numerous than one might imagine and raise an important question: How do governments get great? This paper identifies 10 cases of great governments to answer 4 dimensions of this question: What kinds of interventions or changes help governments achieve greatness? Who leads these interventions or changes, and how? When do the interventions occur, and why? How are these changes sustained and implemented to ensure they yield results? The paper suggests two sets of answers to these concerns, combining such into rival theories that could explain how governments get great: "Solution and leader driven change" (SLDC) and "Problem driven iterative adaptation" (PDIA). It proposes using these two theories in future research about how governments foster the kinds of achievements one could call great and argues this research should employ a version of Theory Guided Process Tracking (TGPT) called systematic process analysis.
Leadership is an under-studied topic in the international development literature. When the topic is broached it is usually in support of what might be called a "hero orthodoxy:" One or other individual is identified as the hero of a specific achievement. The current article offers a three part argument why this orthodoxy is problematic and wrong for many developing countries, however. It suggests first that heroes have not emerged in many countries for a long period and individuals who may have been considered heroes in the past often turned out less than heroic. It posits second that heroes are actually at least as much the product of their contexts as they turned out to be the shapers of such. It proposes third that the stories about hero-leaders doing special things mask the way such special things emerge from the complex interactions of many actors—some important and some mundane. Leadership, it appears, is about multi-agent groups and not single-agent autocrats. The conclusion posits that romantic notions of heroic-leadership in development become less convincing when one appreciates these three arguments. It calls development theorists and practitioners to go beyond the heroic-leader perspective.
This paper argues that attempts at state-building in Afghanistan have led to institutions that are not robust. The state institutions and organizations continue to be highly dependent on external resources and technical expertise, and lack of critical mass of people able and willing to maintain them when external support recedes. I contend that Afghanistan may have fallen into a "capability trap" that can lead to an actual decrease in state capacity in spite of an appearance of progress.
This capability trap has been facilitated by four conditions:
1. High expectations on the government without sequencing or prioritization
2. More weight on immediate results than on establishing capable institutions
3. A limited menu of acceptable options for institutional arrangements, leading to strong pressures for simple "transplantation"
4. A top-down model of implementation
Thinking about state-building thus needs to shift towards helping to structure or guide a process through which the problem-solving capacity of a broader range of actors can be brought to the fore, and more contextually fit models can emerge, that are less reliant on external expertise, resources, and legitimacy.
During Sudan’s ‘interim period’ from the end of civil war in January 2005 until South Sudan’s independence in July 2011, foreign development agencies provided extensive support and billions of dollars in aid—for which institutional development and capacity building of the nascent Government of Southern Sudan were core priorities. This six-year period thus provides a major case study in modern-day state-building. As a framework for analysis, the paper utilizes the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness—which was signed in February 2005, shortly after Sudan’s peace agreement. Assessment of how the Paris principles were utilized in Southern Sudan underscores the limits of the prevailing orthodox approach to development, particularly in fragile post-conflict environments. In such complex, highly challenging contexts, orthodoxy often fails.
Rising standards for accurately inferring the impact of development projects has not been matched by equivalently rigorous procedures for guiding decisions about whether and how similar results might be expected elsewhere. These 'external validity' concerns are especially pressing for 'complex' development interventions, in which the explicit purpose is often to adapt projects to local contextual realities and where high quality implementation is paramount to success. A basic analytical framework is provided for assessing the external validity of complex development interventions. It argues for deploying case studies to better identify the conditions under which diverse outcomes are observed, focusing in particular on the salience of contextual idiosyncrasies, implementation capabilities and trajectories of change. Upholding the canonical methodological principle that questions should guide methods, not vice versa, is required if a truly rigorous basis for generalizing claims about likely impact across time, groups, contexts and scales of operation is to be discerned for different kinds of development interventions.
Public sector reforms are commonplace in developing countries. Much of the literature about these reforms reflects on their failures. This paper asks about the successes and investigates which of two competing theories best explain why some reforms exhibit such positive deviance. These theories are called 'solution and leader driven change' (SLDC) and 'problem driven iterative adaptation' (PDIA). They are used to analyze data emerging from a case survey involving thirty cases from Princeton University's Innovations for Successful Society (ISS) program. The bulk of evidence from this study supports a PDIA explanation, but there is reason to believe that SLDC hypotheses also have value. It seems that PDIA and SLDC are two viable paths through which positive deviance can emerge; although PDIA seems to provide the wider path for more positive deviance.