Stimulated by the extensive policy changes introduced in developing countries in the period after 1980, a large literature has demonstrated that the success or failure of reform is profoundly influenced by power relationships among affected interests, executives and legislatures, leaders and party elites, and national governments and international institutions. Most studies demonstrate that proposals for policy or institutional change are generated by the executive rather than by legislatures, political parties, interest groups, or think tanks. Despite the evidence that reformers within government generate most proposals, their importance to the political economy of reform remains understudied and underappreciated. Current research generally tells us more about the correlation of factors or events that surround policy introduction or defeat and about the behavior of winners and losers than it does about how the contents of reform initiatives are hammered out and taken up by national decision makers.
This paper analyzes three decentralization initiatives that provide insight into how public problems become defined and solutions are posed for national political agendas. In these cases, the work of the design teams was critical to explaining how and why the reforms took the shape they did and what conflicts they evoked when they were introduced by political leaders. This paper indicates that who is appointed to design teams, what tasks they are asked to take on, and how they carry out these tasks are important determinants of the contents of reform initiatives and the kinds of conflicts that will surround the introduction of new policies and institutions.