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My experience as a development practitioner, working with an official development organization (World Bank), with a philanthropic organization (Google.org) and as a consultant to various governments has led me into thinking about the problems of getting stuff done in hard places.
The combination of thinking about and working on specific sectors, like education, and on the development process more generally, I have slowly come around to the view the practice of "development" which is deeply and fundamentally about social, organizational, and "institutional" change actually lacks a coherent and empirically validated theory of change.
GDP is measured on a consistent basis across lots of countries and is available annually. This has meant that when economic policy went awry or just didn't work as advertised (as in "structural adjustment" in Latin America or "the transition" in the FSU and Eastern Europe) this fact was immediately obvious. As arrogant as economists might be (and we are) they could not gainsay the obvious facts.
However, many development failures, both in growth, in service delivery, and in regulation today are not failures of "policy" as failures resulting from lacking the capability to implement policy. This is a much tougher nut to crack.
Capability Traps: Techniques of Persistent Development Failure. (with Michael Woolcock and Matt Andrews). Background paper for the 2011 World Development Report on Development, Conflict and Fragile States.
In the "capability traps" paper we use four different indicators in 2008 of "state capability" and calculate how long it would take for these countries to achieve "high" capability under various scenarios of the pace of progress (e.g. a "Business as Usual" pace extrapolating their recently observed progress) or a "Fastest 20" of if the country were to begin to improve at the pace actually observed for the fastest 20 improvers. The point is that for the countries with currently "weak" governance even with massive optimism about the potential for creating more rapid improvement it will be decades before they have even moderately good governance (say that of the median country)--and they will not be "high capability" like Singapore even within 50 years. The attached spreadsheets have these graphs (only a few of which could be displayed in the paper) for 43 of the "low capability" countries for the four indicators:
Fragile States: Stuck in a Capability Trap? (with Frauke de Weijer). Background paper for the 2011 World Development Report.
What is "policy" and what can be done about it? (Presentation given at LEP seminar series, Center for International Development, HKS, Sept. 13, 2010).
Deals versus Rules: Policy Implementation Uncertainty and Why Firms Hate It. (with Mary Hallward-Driemeier and Gita Khun-Jush). NBER working paper 16001. This papers uses enterprise survey data to show the divergence between "de jure" and "de factor" policy created by weak implementation creates uncertainty with inhibits firm growth. Featured on VOX EU July 23 2010).
The Problem with Paper Tigers: Development Lessons from the Financial Crisis of 2008. This is a paper based on remarks at a conference "New Ideas in Development After the Financial Crisis" on April 22/23 2009 and is forthcoming in a book edited by Nancy Birdsall and Francis Fukuyama..
Is India a Flailing State? Detours on the Four Lane Highway to Modernization. This is a paper arguing that India, while it is making great strides economically and has maintained a vibrant democracy is "flailing" in that the head no longer effectively controls the limbs of the state(s) and hence its ability to act effectively to deliver services of any kind--from policing to education to social safety nets--is weak and weakening. This paper lays out the "four-fold transformation" of development and the variety of deviations from how classic "modernization" theory thought this would proceed.
It's All about MeE. Presentation to an Executive Education course at Harvard May 2010 based on a work in progress together with Salimah Samji and Jeff Hammer on how adding a second "e"--experiential learning-to the "Big E" of rigorous impact evaluation can facilitate more effective learning in organizations doing development projects.
Can the World Bank Promote Innovation? Presentation given to World Bank New Delhi Office in India, August 24th 2009.
Solutions when the Solution is the Problem: Arraying the Disarray in Development with Michael Woolcock. September 2002. Charts the failed consensus and proposals for the delivery of "core public discretionary transaction intensive services." The assumption of "development strategy" was that a powerful and benign state should exert greater control in the interest of "modernization" which would bring more and more of the society under the control of forces that were "rational" and "planned" and "coordinated." Interestingly, the revolt on the "right" to this agenda (e.g. De Soto in a straight intellectual line from Hayek) invokes the "community" and has been joined by the "left" who has come to be deeply suspicious of "the state" as, uncontrolled and disarticulated from by social forces, is a powerful force, not necessarily for good (e.g. James Scott).
Voice Lessons: Local Government Organizations, Social Organizations, and the Quality of Local Governance with Vivi Alatas and Anna Wetterberg. October 2002. An empirical examination of the connection between household's social activities and their perceived quality of local (village) government in Indonesia. We find that the private and the social effect of household participation in local village government organizations are of opposite signs and that one household's participation appears to "crowd out" participation by other households more than one for one.