WIDER Seminar Series

Michael Woolcock and Lant Pritchett on building state capability: evidence, analysis, action

WIDER Seminar Series

Michael Woolcock and Lant Pritchett will present at the WIDER Seminar Series on 13 March 2019.

Abstract – Building state capability: evidence, analysis, action

Governments play a major role in the development process, and constantly introduce reforms and policies to achieve developmental objectives. Many of these interventions have limited impact, however; schools get built but children don't learn, IT systems are introduced but not used, plans are written but not implemented. These achievement deficiencies reveal gaps in capabilities, and weaknesses in the process of building state capability. 

This book addresses these weaknesses and gaps. It starts by providing evidence of the capability shortfalls that currently exist in many countries, showing that many governments lack basic capacities even after decades of reforms and capacity building efforts. The book then analyses this evidence, identifying capability traps that hold many governments back - particularly related to isomorphic mimicry (where governments copy best practice solutions from other countries that make them look more capable even if they are not more capable) and premature load bearing (where governments adopt new mechanisms that they cannot actually make work, given weak extant capacities). The book then describes a process that governments can use to escape these capability traps. Called PDIA (problem driven iterative adaptation), this process empowers people working in governments to find and fit solutions to the problems they face. The discussion about this process is structured in a practical manner so that readers can actually apply tools and ideas to the capability challenges they face in their own contexts. These applications will help readers devise policies and reforms that have more impact than those of the past.

About the speakers

Michael Woolcock is Lead Social Scientist in the World Bank's Development Research Group, where he was worked since 1998. For thirteen of those years he has also been a (part-time) Lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. His current research focuses on strategies for enhancing state capability for implementation, on crafting more effective interaction between informal and formal justice systems, and on using mixed methods to assess 'complex' development interventions. In addition to more than 80 journal articles and book chapters, he is the co-author or co-editor of ten books, including Contesting Development: Participatory Projects and Local Conflict Dynamics in Indonesia (with Patrick Barron and Rachael Diprose; Yale University Press 2011), which in 2012 was a co-recipient of the best book prize by the American Sociological Association's section on international development, and Building State Capability: Evidence, Analysis Action (with Matt Andrews and Lant Pritchett; Oxford University Press 2017). An Australian national, he completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Queensland, and has an MA and PhD in comparative-historical sociology from Brown University. 

Lant Pritchett is Professor of the Practice of International Development at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. In addition, he is a Senior Fellow of the Center for Global Development. He was co-editor of the Journal of Development Economics and worked as a consultant to Google.org. He has held a number of positions at the World Bank and has been part of the team who produce many World Bank reports, including: World Development Report 1994Assessing Aid: What Works, What Doesn't and Why (1998); Better Health Systems for India's Poor (2003); World Development Report 2004; and Economic Growth in the 1990s (2005). In addition he has authored and co-authored over 50 papers that have been published in refereed journals and edited volumes. In 2006 he published his first single-authored book, Let Their People Come, and in 2013 his second, The Rebirth of Education: Schooling Ain't Learning.

WIDER Seminar Series

The WIDER Seminar Series showcases recent and ongoing work on key topics in development economics. The weekly sessions held in Helsinki are open to local and visiting researchers, policy makers, and others interested in development topics. Click here to learn more.

For more information email richardson@wider.unu.edu

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