Michael Woolcock Photo
Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy

Michael Woolcock is Lead Social Scientist in the World Bank's Development Research Group, where he has worked since 1998; for seventeen of these years, dating back to the first cohort of the MPA/ID program (2001), he has also taught part-time at Harvard Kennedy School. During periods of leave he has been the Von Hugel Visiting Fellow at the University of Cambridge (2002), the founding research director of the Brooks World Poverty Institute (now the Global Development Institute) at the University of Manchester (2006-2009), and a foundation staff member of the World Bank’s first Knowledge and Research Hub, in Malaysia (2015-2017). His current research focuses on strategies for enhancing state capability for implementation, on transformations in local social institutions during the development process, and on using mixed methods to assess the effectiveness of "complex" interventions. In addition to more than a hundred journal articles and book chapters, he is the author or co-editor of thirteen books, including Contesting Development: Participatory Projects and Local Conflict Dynamics in Indonesia (with Patrick Barron and Rachael Diprose; Yale University Press, 2011), which was a co-recipient of the 2012 best book prize by the American Sociological Association's section on international development; Building State Capability: Evidence, Analysis, Action (with Matt Andrews and Lant Pritchett; Oxford University Press, 2017), which was central to the establishment of the Building State Capability Program at the Center for International Development, and was co-lead (with Samuel Freije-Rodriguez) of the World Bank’s biennial Poverty and Shared Prosperity Report 2020: Reversals of Fortune. Most recently, he has co-edited three scholarly volumes on case studies, popular culture, and the future of multilateralism, and a book for broader audiences on development’s role in both intensifying and (potentially) resolving humanity’s greatest challenges. Operationally, his current World Bank work involves contributing to major public sector reform efforts in Cambodia and Papua New Guinea (particularly in education), to helping the Global Environmental Facility learn from its most ‘challenging’ projects, and to working with teams articulating the Bank’s new Gender Strategy and its understanding of social sustainability. An Australian national, he has a PhD in comparative-historical sociology from Brown University.

Executive Education Programs

Academic Journal/Scholarly Articles


Book Chapters

Edited Volumes

Research Papers/Reports


Mailing Address

Harvard Kennedy School
79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138