Matt Andrew's New Book "Limits of Institutional Reform in Development"

A Virtual Book Tour with HKS Faculty Member: Matt R. Andrews

Loading video player ...

Matt R. Andrews
Associate Professor of Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School
Faculty Associate, Center for International Development

Publisher's Book Description

Institutional reforms are common across the globe. Think of efforts to build new governments in Afghanistan and Iraq; or decades worth of interventions intended to improve fiscal management, reduce corruption or introduce efficient public sector service delivery in African countries.These reforms often have limited results, however. They lead to new laws that are not properly implemented, and new organizations that have poor capacities and fail to function as needed.In this book, Matt Andrews explains why reform results are frequently limited and suggests ways to overcome these limits.

In the first half of the book, Andrews argues that reforms fail to make governments better when they are introduced as signals to gain short-term support--from donors and others. Reforms as signals introduce unrealistic best practices that do not fit developing country contexts and are not considered relevant by implementing agents. The result is a set of new forms that do not function properly.Andrews uses examples to prove this point, ranging from efforts to introduce fiscal rules in Argentina to reforms aimed at international accounting standard adoption in many African countries, and anti corruption interventions in Malawi and Uganda.

In the second half of the book, Andrews notes that there are instances where reforms are not being introduced as signals, and are having more of an impact on government effectiveness. Examples include local government reforms in Rwanda, anti corruption initiatives in Indonesia, and a variety of initiatives ranging from results based management to civil service modernization and internal control regime adoption in governments like Kenya, Kosovo and Afghanistan.

Andrews uses these examples to discuss ways in which reforms can actually provide realistic solutions to governance challenges in developing countries. Lessons from these experiences suggest that reform limits can be overcome by focusing interventions on problem solving, and promoting incremental and localized processes to find solutions, involving multiple agents who can authorize and implement reforms.


“Institutional reform can only work if it is tailored to the local context. That is why so-called best-practice reforms typically fail: they create the illusion of progress, but not the reality. This important book goes beyond this lament to formulate a positive agenda of reform, built on incrementalism, problem-driven focus, and collaboration among stakeholders. Matt Andrews has seen the future, and it is in this book.”
— Dani Rodrik, Institute for Advanced Studies

“The Limits of Institutional Reform in Development points to the singular inability of international donors to promote their vision of good government, and explains how this is rooted in their failure to understand local context. More importantly, it suggests a way forward, not through preconceived models but through experimentation and adaptation.”
— Francis Fukuyama, Stanford University

“ In this post-financial crisis era, many of us increasingly realize that we actually know little about how to govern human society for a good life. The author's insightful analysis makes a significant contribution to the literature. It has major implications for the study of public sector reforms in developing countries.”
— Jun Ma, Sun Yat-sen University, China

“Andrews has a simple but bold idea: admit that no one really knows what to do about governance failings in poor countries. Deep six the World Bank-style public-sector reform blueprints that haven't worked. Define the problem instead of specifying the solution, adopt 'muddle through' instead of 'best practice', and stop counting on local champions. New World Bank president Jim Yong Kim should ask for a briefing on this book.”
— Nancy Birdsall, President, Center for Global Development, Washington, DC

The Virtual Book Tour is brought to you by the Harvard Kennedy School Library. If you have any requests, comments or suggestions, please contact us.

The Limits of Institutional Reform in Development: Changing Rules for Realistic Solutions

Cover of the book, "The Limits of Institutional Reform in Development: Changing Rules for Realistic Solutions"

Cambridge University Press

John F. Kennedy School of Government 79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
617-495-1100 Get Directions Visit Contact Page