The Impact Initiative has closed. This website has now been archived and will no longer be updated.
The Impact Initiative has closed. This website has now been archived and will no longer be updated.

Investigating 'pockets of effectiveness' in developing countries: a new route to building state capacity for development

Research Partners:

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Principal Investigator: Sam Hickey. Lead Organisation: University of Manchester
Co-investigator: Giles Marcus Mohan
A major challenge for achieving poverty reduction is that the capacity of states to deliver development is in short supply, particularly in Africa. However, 'pockets of effectiveness' (PoEs) offer important clues concerning how developmental forms of state capacity might emerge and be sustained in difficult contexts. PoEs are public organisations that function effectively where this is not the norm, with history suggesting that they have proved critical to developmental state success in the global south. Examples include national banks that can maintain macroeconomic stability and establish the conditions for pro-poor growth; regulatory agencies that can effectively govern key development resources; and policy delivery units capable of providing basic social services, all of which are central to improving the lives of poor people in Africa.
Recent research on PoEs has suggested that both external (e.g. political context) and internal factors (e.g. organisational leadership) shape their performance. However, this emerging subfield of governance research lacks a comparative study which systematically identifies how PoEs emerge and are sustained in different contexts and sectors, and the role that domestic and international actors can play in this. This absence has ruled out developing a theory of change concerning how PoEs emerge and are sustained and the generation of policy recommendations beyond specific cases. The key objectives are therefore to: 
  1. Undertake a comparative analysis of the institutional and political conditions through which PoEs emerge and are sustained in different contexts and within different sectors
  2. Identify the role that domestic and international actors play in developing and sustaining PoEs 
  3. Directly inform and improve efforts by governments and development agencies to support PoEs in Africa, and developmental governance more broadly 
  4. Strengthen the capacity of early-career African researchers to undertake governance research and policy engagement.
The project will employ a 'political settlements' approach to understanding the political and institutional conditions associated with poverty reduction, and directly explore what domestic and international actors can do to promote these conditions. Political settlements analysis focuses on how formal and informal forms of politics and power relations shape the performance of public organisations. Different kinds of political settlement offer different kinds of incentives and opportunities for elite actors to invest in building effective developmental institutions. We will undertake comparative qualitative investigations into PoEs within two 'competitive clientelistic' types (Ghana, Zambia) and two 'dominant' types (Rwanda and Uganda). A PoE involved in each of economic development, regulation and social provisioning will be investigated in each context. This design will significantly enhance our generation of policy relevant findings and also theory-development.
The PI and Co-I have extensive experience of directing and undertaking comparative research in Africa, and will actively strengthen the capacity of the early-career African researchers involved here. The PI has a very productive track record of working with this particular team. Our innovative programme of policy engagement and uptake work will be further supported by a high-capacity team at Manchester and the use of networks established through the PI's leading role in international research centres since 2005. The research team already has good relationships with leading officials within some of the PoEs involved and with governance advisors within international development agencies. This provides a strong basis for ensuring that key stakeholders are enrolled into and inform the project from the outset, and that the findings will be channelled directly to the key actors involved in promoting poverty-reducing forms of state capacity in Africa.

Who will this research benefit and how? What will be done to ensure this?

The ultimate beneficiaries of this work will be African citizens, as our research will actively seek to inform and improve the efforts of national governments and development agencies to support and sustain PoEs in Africa. PoEs have proved critical to the promotion of pro-poor growth, the good governance of development resources and effective service delivery, all of which are central to improving the lives of poor people.
The next group of beneficiaries will be senior government officials with responsibility for improving public sector performance in Africa, particularly lead officials within the PoEs investigated here. PoE leaders will be engaged through workshops designed to enable them to shape the research, gain comparative perspectives on what has and has not worked well over time, and to reflect on their strategies for delivering development more effectively in the future. The PI has already secured the agreement of several leading PoE officials to be involved in this project.
The third group to benefit will be governance advisors within development agencies who are required to provide evidence-based solutions to governance problems in Africa. This will fill an important gap between the old agenda of promoting wholesale governance reforms and the new focus on working with small reform teams around specific tasks (Andrews 2013), both of which misses the significance of developing the capacity of particular organisations to perform a broader range of tasks over time. We will target the Governance sector working group in each country, with a particular focus on DFID and the World Bank as two of the most influential agencies in the governance field. Working group chairs will be invited to act as project advisors, and governance advisors will be invited to workshops at all levels. Results will be presented at agency retreats and bespoke impact materials will be developed for advisors, including video talking heads from senior PoE officials in which they detail how international support has shaped PoE performance over time.
The research team has good relationships with both sets of policy actors (domestic and international), which provides a strong basis for ensuring that they are enrolled into, inform and benefit from the research. Our innovative programme of policy engagement and uptake work will be further supported by a high-capacity team at Manchester and the use of networks established through the PI's leading role in international research centres since 2005.
Academics within international development and cognate disciplines will benefit from the new theoretical and empirical insights generated here, via an extensive programme of dissemination, including conference and working papers and the submission of at least six papers to leading journals in international development (e.g. World Development), comparative politics and areas studies (e.g. African Affairs) and public administration (e.g. Governance), plus a monograph with a reputable university press. The published work will provide the basis for longer-term policy influence.
Pedagogic materials produced from the case-study material will be directly used to inform postgraduate teaching provision via the new MSc Politics, Governance and Development at Manchester, the Masters of Public Administration at the University of Ghana Business School, Governance and Development at University of Melbourne and the Open University's Open Educational Resources. These programmes attract public sector officials and those who will go onto act as governance advisors in international development agencies, and so will further assist this project to reach two of the key stakeholder groups targeted for this research.
All stakeholders will benefit from a dedicated project website that will host working papers, podcasts and video talking-heads, and provide a platform for a range of social media activities.
Primary theme: 
Grant Reference: 
Project Status: 
Grant Category: 
Research Grant
Fund Start Date: 
March 1st, 2017
Fund End Date: 
February 29th, 2020
Fund Currency Code: 
Fund Value: