Mapping Peer Learning Initiatives in Public Sector Reforms in Development

CID Working Paper No. 298

Matt Andrews, Nick Fanning
April 2015


The origins of this work lie in the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness conference in Busan and its call for a less didactic, “one size fits all” point of entry to improving state capacity (Various, 2011). The “Effective Institutions Platform“(EIP)1, an international partnership of over 60 high, middle, and low income countries and organizations (multilateral and bilateral development agencies, civil society, think tanks) is seeking to
operationalize the insight that that there is as much or more to be gained from the tactical and strategic responses of other reformers than from “first best” technical advice from experts.

The insight derives from the “new realist”2 approaches to development in general and governance and public sector management in particular (‘Doing Development Differently’ workshop, 2014; Andrews, 2013; Andrews, Pritchett, & Woolcock, 2012; Blum, Manning, & Srivastava, 2012; Booth, 2014; Booth & Unsworth, 2014; World Bank, 2000, 2012b).

Authors contributing to this way of thinking point out that it is expensive and difficult to find out what is really happening before, during, and after reforms. The incentives for reform actors to describe de jure aspirations rather than de facto achievements, and the unobservable nature of the changes which must take in the behaviors of the “distributed agents” (“budgeters, accountants, and such in sector ministries, provinces, and districts” (Andrews, 2014, p.1)) for reforms to be meaningful, combine to mean that knowledge about public sector reforms in general (what tends to work?), and knowledge about public sector reforms in context (what seems to work here?) are both very limited.

The new realists respond to these related problems of limited information about the real nature of reforms and the rewards for over-emphasizing anticipated rather than real impacts from public sector reform by emphasizing the importance of the tacit, experiential knowledge of practitioners responsible for reform, downplaying the traditional emphasis on standardized solutions and replacing the rather detached notions of “vision” and “political will” with an emphasis on practical problem-solving. They point out that practitioners who have lived through reform are more likely to know its actual impact, and practitioners who must implement reform are more likely to spot early on whether it seems to be doing what was claimed.

Affiliated Research Program: Building State Capability