Building State Capability for Implementation: an IDSS presentation by Michael Woolcock

development workshop


Michael Woolcock
Professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government


January 10, 2013


12–1:15 p.m. PT


RAND Corporation
1776 Main Street
Santa Monica, CA

About the Program

Many reform initiatives in developing countries fail to achieve sustained improvements in performance because they are merely isomorphic mimicry—that is, governments and organizations pretend to reform by changing what policies or organizations look like rather than what they actually do. The flow of development resources and legitimacy without demonstrated improvements in performance, however, undermines the impetus for effective action to build state capability or improve performance. This dynamic facilitates ‘capability traps’ in which state capability stagnates, or even deteriorates, over long periods of time despite governments remaining engaged in developmental rhetoric and continuing to receive development resources.

How can countries escape capability traps? We propose an approach, Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA), based on (a) four core principles, each of which stands in sharp contrast with the standard approaches, and (b) ongoing operational work with country-based counterparts in public financial management, health, education and justice.

About the Speaker

Michael Woolcock is a professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He is also Lead Social Development Specialist with the World Bank’s Development Research Group in Washington, D.C. His current work focuses on interactions between customary and state legal systems, conducted as part of the World Bank's global 'Justice for the Poor' program (which he co-founded), and strategies for assessing complex social interventions.

His most recent books are Contesting Development: Participatory Projects and Local Conflict Dynamics in Indonesia (with Patrick Barron and Rachael Diprose; Yale University Press 2011), and History, Historians and Development Policy: A Necessary Dialogue (edited with C.A. Bayly, Vijayendra Rao and Simon Szreter; Manchester University Press 2011). He earned his MA and PhD in sociology from Brown University. He taught previously at Harvard Kennedy School from 2000-2006 and from 2006-2009 was founding Research Director of the Brooks World Poverty Institute at the University of Manchester, where he was Professor of Social Science and Development Policy.