Evidence, Analysis, Action
Matt Andrews, Lant Pritchett, and
2 See Chong et al. (2014).
Chong, A., La Porta, R., Lopez-de-Silanes, F., and Shleifer, A. 2014. Letter grading
government efficiency. Journal of the European Economic Association 12(2), pp. 277–99.
Our theory stems from our belief that success builds capability, and not vice versa. Institutions and organizations and state capability are the result of success—they are the consolidation and reification of successful practices.
We refer to this combination of capability failure while maintaining at least the appearance and often the legitimacy and benefits of capability as “successful failure.”
This leads to “institutional monocropping” (Evans 2004).
38(4), pp. 30–52.
Note that the actions of organizations, leadership, and front-line workers work best if they are coherent.
As the adage goes, if an organization has more than three goals it has no goals.
Leaders of the organizations can
further their own careers by signing off on such interventions. Their agreement
to adopt externally mandated reforms facilitates the continued flow of
external funds, which can further various public and private interests. Frontline
workers ostensibly required to implement these changes are seldom part
of the conversation about change, however, and thus have no incentive (or
opportunity) to contribute ideas about how things could be improved.
treat reforms as signals, adopting external solutions that are not necessarily
politically accepted or practically possible in the local context. Local agents
have little incentive to pursue improved functionality in such settings, especially
when they are rewarded so handsomely for complying with externally
mandated “forms” (appearances).
A consequence of believing that form drives function is that it permits—
even creates an imperative for—transplanting “best practices” from one context
The first reason is that it is the process of arriving at state capability, not the
form, which matters for sustained functional success.
high capability. The first reason is that it is the process of arriving at state capability, not the form, which matters for sustained functional success. (p.4
Shared purpose is an organization’s immune system. Organizations born
through transplantation that did not have to struggle their way into existence
defending their legitimacy on the basis of functionality are creatures without
an immune system.
But even if that
organization proves locally successful, closed spaces for organizational innovation
may lead to a brief localized success but with no scalable impact on the
ongoing process of discovering and encouraging which of the diverse array of
context-specific institutional forms will lead to higher functionality.
its constituent elements that primarily shapes observed outcomes.
The often twinned forces of isomorphic mimicry and premature load bearing
can leave countries stuck in capability traps in spite of well-meaning conscious
efforts to accelerate modernization by both domestic actors (“reform champions”)
and external development agencies.
First, there is an implicit
assumption that the country is a “blank slate” with no pre-existing state
capability, or such weak capability that it can be easily replaced or subsumed.
Second, there is the expectation that function will follow form, quickly. Third,
the actions of the international development community are based on the
same theory of change that has become familiar thus far in the book: namely,
their actions are based on the transplantation of best practices with little
regard to the actual capability of the organizations charged with implementing
Collecting tax is one such example: it requires both a capable state and an
acceptance by the population that this is a legitimate role of the state. The
now-wealthy countries built this capability slowly, but developing countries
are expected to quickly acquire the capability to conduct this task, despite the
fact that such tasks are complex and often contentious.
To the extent that state capability completely (or nearly) collapsed (as in Liberia or Afghanistan or DRC or Somalia or Haiti) or had been sharply retrogressing from moderate levels (as the data on “Quality of Government” suggest of Pakistan or Kenya or Venezuela) or is merely stuck at a low rate of either retrogression or progression (or a mix) or a moderate level of capacity (as appears to be the case in, say, India), these are all “second jump” situations.
In our working deﬁnition a “policy” has four elements: a formula that maps from actions to facts, processes for determining the policy-relevant facts, a set of objectives, and a causal model.
Organizations with weak capability for policy implementation are those that cannot equip their agents with the capacity, resources, and motivation to take actions that promote the organization’s stated objectives.
3. Service or obligation?
4. Based on known technology?
Four key analytic questions about an activity to classify the capability needed
Figure 5.2. The ﬁve types of activities that have different capability needs in implementation
However, for a variety of historical, political, and intellectual reasons primaryeducation came to be dominated by “spider”9 organizations which approached public education as a logistical problem of expanding enrollments.
An “account” is the justiﬁcatory narrative I tell myself which reconciles my actions with my identity: am I fulﬁlling my duties?
These organizations survive and thrive because key agents believe it is important that their account of what they do (indeed perhaps who they are) accords with the purposes of the organization.
When attempts at thin accountability—making agent rewards depend on judicable“facts”(likeattendance,likewereactualtaxesowed)—areimpossible becausethe overallinstitutionalenvironment isweak, thenevenusing incentives will not work.
We start with a simple classroom exercise to do this, focused on designing a strategy to travel from east to west in the United States of America in 2015 and 1804.
Table 6.2. A strategy to Go West in 2015
Table 6.3. A strategy to Go West in 1804
Table6.3 summarizes the common answers, which suggest, for instance, that the action needs to be driven by a highly motivating problem that is felt and owned by those involved. Action cannot be predeﬁned but must rather emerge through experimental iterations where teamstakeastep,learn,adapt,and take another step.
First, there are different capability building challenges in the world.
The studyfoundthatevery singlecaseinvolvedablendofchallenges, some resembling going west in 2015 (being logistical) and others resembling going west in 1804 (being wicked hard, or complex).
For instance, education projects commonly include some school building initiatives, whicharelargelylogistical(and hence2015innature)butalsoinclude efforts to improve teacher and student performance in the schools that have been built (which resemble 1804 challenges).
The ﬁrst, SLDC, stands for solution and leader-driven change. Thisis wherean intervention emerges froma ﬁxed solution, is implemented through a well-developed and disciplined plan, and led by a highly authorized individual working with a small group of experts. The second, PDIA, is the approach that we ﬁnd most relevant in addressing complex, wicked hard challenges commonly involved in building state capability.
problem-driven vs. solution-driven
Indeed, we ﬁnd that many reformers claiming to be problem-driven are in fact not problem-driven at all.
focal problem needs to reﬂect on a performance deﬁciency
Table 7.1. Constructing a problem out of your 1804 challenge
We propose using tools like the “5-why technique” and ﬁshbone diagrams in such deconstruction.
bring new agents into a ﬂedgling team that included members from a variety of affected agencies.
We ﬁnd this kind of problem deconstruction both illuminating and empowering. It forces would-be reformers and policymakers to interrogate the problem that they often think they fully understand.
We simplify the observations from such work into a heuristic that reformers can use in assessing “space for change” in any causal dimension area.
The hallmarks of this process are simple: targeted actions are rapidly tried, lessons are quickly gathered to inform what happened and why, and a next action step is designed and undertaken based on what was learned in prior steps.
Figure 8.1. The design space: where do we get ideas from?
latent practice: Rapid Results type interventions
For example, in every town with high levels of infant mortality, one can identify a household where no children die; they are the positive deviants, doing something that others are not doing but that is effective in addressing the problem in the context.
The message here is simple: ﬁnding and ﬁtting solutions to complex problems requires ﬁrst identifying multiple ideas and then trying these out, in an experimentalmanner,toallowtheemergenceofhybrids.
A different approach is required when dealing with complex challenges— wherepolicymakersandwould-bereformerscantrynewideasout,learnwhat works and why, adapt ideas, and repeat the process until a solution is found. We call this experimental iteration.
.The approach should not be confused with a randomized controlled trial, however,whereonetestsanideainascientiﬁcmanner,randomizingwhoreceives the “treatment” and attempting to control the messy inﬂuences of reality.
Figure 8.2. The iterative process in simple form
The Searchframe, unlike a Logframe, does not specify every action step that will be taken.
Figure8.3.The“Searchframe”as a Logframe alternative for complex challenges
Experientiallearninglikethis(whichmightalsobecalled“actionlearning”) is the process of learning through experience, or by doing. It involves the learner actively in a process of trying something and then reﬂecting on experience, where the learner is both source and user of emergent knowledge;
Table 8.3. Fostering experiential learning in your ﬁnd-and-ﬁt process
This is a demanding list, but it is perhaps not as demanding as the key elements one actually needs to tackle complex challenges, when experimentingtoﬁndandﬁtnewsolutions:“ﬂexibility”and“shareability”and “grit” (or patience)—as noted above—from those providing authorization (where the last characteristic relates to the ability of an authorizer to manage waiting periods, failure, and changes in direction, given a passion for attaining the long-term goal).
Figure 9.2. The reality: fragmented and dysfunctional authorization mechanisms
Table 9.2. Where will you look for your authorization needs?
The ﬁrst point to make is simply that you should treat all your assumptions about authority with the same degree of healthy skepticism.
The third point is that you do not require full authority at the start of your initiative.
The ﬁnal point we would like to make about gaining and growing authority centers on the use of coalitions in PDIA.
Table 9.5. Questions to ask about gaining and growing authority
One needs gradual 4-D scaling in such situations—where capability expands in all four ways; quantitative (“more” entities are affected), functional (“more” activities are performed), political (“more” support is attracted, and mandates are broadened), and organizational (“more” resources are allocated to areas of growing capability)—with organizations learning more things and achievingmorepoliticalspacetomoveandusenewcapability.
The importance of broad and deep engagement should be obvious, even from these overly simplistic and stylized ﬁgures.
As in the example presented above (in Figures10.1 and 10.2), a broad engagement is one in which many people provide real and different leadership roles from many different places in the social or state structure.
She identiﬁes three approaches to mobilize these “resources”: leveraging, convening,andaccumulating.Weoftenemploytheseapproacheswhenmobilizing agents for PDIA processes, with a fourth we call connecting.
Table 10.3. Which mobilization mechanism/strategy best ﬁts your situation?