Our 5 component orthodoxy. Debate.

This articulation establishes the point of departure for our ‘orthodoxy’ on governance and development. There are five components of this orthodoxy … which we hope you will either confirm or contest.

Five components of our orthodoxy

  1. First, institutions absolutely matter for growth, poverty reduction and development, but which specific institutions matter in any country can only be answered by examining the stage of that country’s development, its history, evolution and political culture. In short, context is everything. We can’t assume that more open, accountable and democratic political institutions will automatically generate growth and development. There are many examples of this – consider the DRC after the fall of Mobuto.  “Democratic institutions in one state may be associated with violent conflict and economic stagnation’, while in another they may lead related to peaceful social relations and economic growth”[1].
  1. Second, we know there are many institutions that contribute to better governance and a more effective state. There are primarily economic institutions which impact on growth; there are primarily political institutions which impact on voice and accountability; and there are primarily administrative institutions that impact on the effectiveness and efficiency of the bureaucracy. Identifying which ones to support first and in what sequence requires both analysis and contextual understanding. The World Bank tracks six core institutions of governance: government effectiveness, regulatory quality, voice and accountability, political stability and the absence of violence, the rule of law, and anti-corruption[2]. Research shows that all six of these institutions of governance may have a direct impact on economic growth[3], but the specific institutions which are the most critical constraints to growth will vary. For example, improving voice and accountability is likely to be more significant in countries with higher incomes. In low income countries, the most important governance issues may be government effectiveness and regulatory quality.
  1. Third, it is the functioning of institutions that matter, not what they look like – their form. In the governance discourse this phenomenon is widely recognised and is called ‘isomorphic mimicry’. This rather ugly term describes a very powerful and extremely tempting tendency on behalf of donor agencies to attempt to replicate systems that work “at home”. This has been identified repeatedly in many poor countries.
  1. Fourth given the variety of institutional arrangements and the importance of function not form, external partners should be neither prescriptive nor normative about organisational forms. Different organisational forms and structures are likely to work in different ways in different contexts. The approach should be to focus on functioning and performance.
  1. Finally, we know that development is about change and that there will be winners and losers from any change process. Thus partners need increasingly to move to politically informed development assistance, that combines political-economy knowledge with more responsive and contextually relevant operations. The key characteristics of such approaches include:
    • focus relentlessly on the problem;
    • avoid program straightjackets: i.e. build in flexibility;
    • understand how development happens, including mapping institutions, incentives and interests;
    • set clear goals and be able to muddle through change: being sure on where you are heading is essential. Clear goals are not the same as rigid logframes– they are an understanding of what changes you are hoping to promote;
    • constant interrogation of the context: failed programmes often have good initial political analysis but poor ongoing political management; and
    • a rigorous challenge function: good political programmes have faced tough questions from external critics/reviewers that have prevented teams from being stuck on pre-set tracks.

So, here’s our take – but what’s your view? What is this ‘governance’ thing anyway and what does it mean to you?

[1] James Putzel and Jonathan Di John “Meeting the Challenges of Crisis States”. LSE, UK 2012.

[2] World Bank (2013) World Governance Indicators 2013, http://info.worldbank.org/governance/wgi/index.aspx#home.

[3] Asian Development Bank (ADB) (2013) “Asian Development Outlook Update 2013: Governance and Public service Delivery”.

5 thoughts on “Our 5 component orthodoxy. Debate.

  1. Pingback: What is this ‘Governance’ thing anyway? – Governance Soapbox

  2. David

    As an orthodoxy, this seems quite useful, and the last point in particular is well stated. However, I think even within this post, you show us why it is so hard to follow these ideas.

    The way you use the terminology of institutions in the World Bank example actually runs a bit counter to your orthodoxy. I don’t think that rule of law or voice represent institutions; I think that they are useful heuristics to think about outcomes, perhaps, but they might be different in different provinces/sectors (e.g. rule of law around agricultural markets) in ways obscured by considering them singularly.

    Here’s why I think that matters: by placing those outcomes in a general category of institutions, it seems to make them more like “forms” than like “functions” and so play into the donor incentives that have led to isomorphic mimicry.

    If we think about institutions as things, we start to drift into pattern recognition and sequencing – the Rule of Law Institution matters in a place like this – and begin to answer general theoretical questions of What Is To Be Done rather than context and donor specific questions of Given This, What Should I Do. This pushes us away from context sensitivity and toward viewing work in any one place as an example of something broader, with certain proven answers to import, and so best practices to follow – if you see problem pattern A, subtype z, use sequence 3 and interventions vi and ix.

    If instead we think about rules of the game, or even political settlements, these are pretty clearly unique to each country or sub-unit being analyzed. The questions we end up asking are what the rules are, how they are affecting development outcomes of interest, and what that means for donors and implementers. It’s the neglected area under 3, 4, and 5 of your orthodoxy – to take on board working politically, we have to see ourselves as outsiders in relationship to the problem we focus on. This is why I tend to prefer these terms to institutions – it is harder to forget the uniqueness of the thing we are talking about.

    Overall, kudos, this is a great post and the articulation of politically informed development assistance is succinct and helpful!


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