Photo: Thoman Hawk

Capable states – building the foundations for achieving SDGs

This project examines the role of capable, committed and accountable states in delivering inclusive development. Further, it will look into the economic and political drivers of how such states emerge, especially in conflict-affected and fragile environments, and what interventions development partners can use to support these developments, and the SDGs.

The analysis of state capability, defined as the institutional capability of the state to carry out various policies that can bring about inclusive economic growth— as well as deliver benefits and services to households and firms— has emerged as the cutting edge of research on the relationship between governance, institutions, and economic development.

Key questions

The project will address two core areas which are currently under-researched.

1. State effectiveness and institutional strengthening, including the development of more effective, capable, legitimate, and authoritative states.

  • What are the elements of state-building in developing countries, especially in conflict-affected and fragile environments? Under what economic and political conditions do capable states emerge in these circumstances? 
  • What explains the boom-and-bust nature of economic growth in developing countries, especially in weak institutional contexts? How can the recurrence of economic and political crisis be avoided in conflict-affected states and fragile environments?
  • What kinds of interventions can support states in becoming more capable in delivering development? What can international development assistance (including the UN) do better to support state-building in low- and middle-income context

2. The pervasiveness of clientelism in developing countries.

This issue has broader systemic consequences that undermine democracy and development in a variety of ways — by lowering public good provision, by increasing corruption, by leading to ineffective political competition, and by reducing the accountability of elected officials.

  • What explains the pervasiveness of clientelistic politics in developing countries, and what are its developmental implications? What kinds of institutional changes enable more programmatic forms of politics to emerge?
  • Why have some developing countries been successful in moving from clientelistic to programmatic politics whilst others have not?
Watch this space

All papers, data, opinion pieces and opportunities to engage relating to this project will be available on this webpage. The first component of this project looking at the relationship between clientelistic politics and economic development in March 2019. Other components of the project will be launched later in 2019.

UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

Due to the centrality of state capacity in determining development paths of countries, this project will produce knowledge fundamental to achieving SDG16 (building strong institutions) and SDG8 (decent work and economic growth), as well as Goals 1, 3, 4, and 9


Main subject

Theme: Current programme