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Research Agenda

Phase 2: 2005-10
Programme 1:
Public Action & Private Investment
Programme 2:
Collective Action Around Service Delivery
Programme 3:
State Capacity

Phase 1: 2000-05

Programme 1:
Financing the State

Programme 2:
Mobilising Public Action

Programme 3:
Co-Producing Public Services

Research Strategy Summary Statement

The ultimate goal is to help reduce poverty, promote development and increase the rate of economic growth by helping to increase state capacity, i.e. by making public authority more effective, more accountable and more responsive.

A distinctive feature of our research programme is its focus on how to get better governance. We see the interaction between state and society as playing the central role in constructing effective, accountable public institutions. These evolve through a political process of bargaining between the state and organised groups in society. They cannot be generated simply by transferring institutional models from rich to poor countries. It follows that policymakers should be less concerned with how governance arrangements in poor countries measure up against institutional models in OECD countries, and more concerned with the political processes at work in a particular country context. They should focus less on formal public institutions, and more on the informal arrangements and institutions that underpin them. The contemporary political environment in poor countries is very different from the historical experience of European and OECD countries. The process of establishing and maintaining effective governance is therefore also very different, and in many ways more challenging. Our research takes particular account of three differences:

  • The ways in which governments are financed, including the prevalence in much of the contemporary poor world of ‘external' revenues from aid and natural resource extraction.

  • The wide multiplicity of political actors with whom contemporary governments need to deal and negotiate. These include many mobilised civil society groups; external actors like aid donors, international financial and regulatory bodies, regional country groupings and transnational corporations; and networked organisations of various kinds, from civil society groupings to narcotics producers and traders, that have both ‘domestic' and ‘international' faces.

  • The fact that non-state authorities of various kinds exercise public authority and provide public services in cooperation or competition with the formal state. They range from ‘indigenous' institutions that claim legitimacy by virtue of ‘traditionality' through to insurgent organisations reliant directly on force.

Within this overarching framework, our research agenda focuses on more specific policy issues that change over time as we complete work and as understandings and policy agendas shift. We currently group our work according to three research programmes:

Programme One: Public Action and Private Investment

Research in this programme is concerned with how to increase productive private investment. It focuses on relations between political actors and private investors, and addresses the question: How, in the political and institutional environments typical of poor countries, can government action result in substantial increases in productive private investment? The Convenor is Professor Hubert Schmitz (IDS).

Programme Two: Collective Action Around Service Delivery

Methods of public service delivery have changed substantially over recent decades. 'Good practice' models typically lay emphasis on the value of decentralisation, of a plurality of competing service providers, and of direct citizen participation in service delivery and design. The research programme is concerned with the impact of these reforms on the delivery of basic services. In particular, we focus on the ways in which they affect the ability of collective actors representing the poor to make claims, influence policy and build sustainable forms of societal accountability around public services; and the capacity of the state to negotiate consensus around public policies. The Convenors are Dr Anuradha Joshi (IDS) and Professor Adrian Gurza Lavalle (CEBRAP, Brazil ).

Programme Three: State Capacity

We have a range of other activities designed to advance us toward our long term goal of more policy-relevant understanding of effective state capacity in the more fragile parts of the contemporary globalised world. The main current research projects relate to: informal local governance in Asia; the impact on state capacity of the proliferation of aid channels; the reasons for specially good performance by some public sector agencies; and the effects of 'windfall revenues' from natural resources and aid on the management of public finances. We also continue to respond to a growing policy interest in the results of earlier research into the connections between taxation and the quality of governance. The Convenors are Professor Ali Cheema (LUMS, Pakistan ) and Dr Andres Mejia Acosta (IDS).

Click here for further details of the Centre's research programme.

Click here to read the most up to date reports for each project within the Centre.




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