An upside down view of governance

Development practitioners… need to close off their existing assumptions and mental models about governance and development.

Their default position is to look at the world from the perspective of a ‘developed’ country, aspiring to introduce governance reforms that would align the institutions of poor countries in the South more closely with those of an OECD state.

The goal includes an elected executive and legislature, a rules-based bureaucracy, an independent judiciary, a security apparatus under civilian control, and a regulated market economy – in short, effective, accountable public institutions that can support a broad range of civil, political, economic and social rights.

Informal institutions and personalised relationships are usually seen as governance problems, but the research suggests that they can also be part of the solution.

…Programmes to improve the investment climate, strengthen the rule of law, or fight corruption do not fail just for lack of ‘ownership’ or attention to politics. They fail because they make the wrong starting assumption: that progressive change consists in, and can be achieved through, strengthening formal, rules-based institutions that reflect a clear division between public and private spheres of life.

The key to making progress in the short-to-medium term may not be direct external intervention to orchestrate and support rules-based reform, but more indirect strategies to shift or influence the incentives and interests of local actors.

From a recent IDS report to DFID. A view to which I am very sympathetic.