Learning to Target for Economic Diversification: PDIA in Sri Lanka

CID Faculty Working Paper No. 332

Matt Andrews, Peter Harrington, et al
January 2017


Many countries are trying to diversify their economies. Sri Lanka is an example. Governments like Sri Lanka often lack the capabilities to lead diversification programs, however. 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 over a three to four team. 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 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) focused on building state capability and fostering policy implementation in public contexts.

1The term here comes from Hausmann, R. and Rodrik, D. 2006. Doomed to Choose: Industrial Policy as Predicament. Draft.

Affiliated Research Program: Building State Capability