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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 Agenda

Background and Programme Details


There are major, continuing concerns about governance and public authority in the developing countries of Africa, Asia, the Balkans, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Middle East . Amid tremendous political diversity, three serious problems recur in a variety of forms:

  • Many governments are unable to exercise authority of any kind over much of their territories and populations. They cede power to competing and frequently-armed groups and networks of smugglers, criminals, narcotics traders, bandits, insurgents and "traditional authorities".

  • The government authority that does exist may not be legitimate and may be exercised coercively.

  • Power is concentrated in relatively few hands and large populations -- the poor, women, and particular regional, ethnic or linguistic groups -- are politically excluded.

These problems manifest themselves in different forms over time, often in response to global level changes in economic and geo-strategic relationships. The reasons for poor governance are not well understood; and the scope for effective intervention even less so. Many conventional ideas about how to promote good governance and economic growth are based on questionable expectations and assumptions about institutional arrangements that seemed to work well in the histories of now-rich countries. But they are inadequate and misleading in relation to the situation of many contemporary developing countries. There is a need to reappraise ideas about how to get more effective, accountable governance in the light of two areas of recent experience:

  • The mixed record of transfer of Western institutions to developing countries, especially in recent decades under the general rubric of "good government". While there have been many successes, it is clear that many transplants fail to take, often because they are less appropriate and effective than indigenous practices and institutions -- both those that are in some sense "traditional " and those that have emerged recently, in response to the inadequacies of the more formal institutional framework.

  • The economies of many developing countries currently are expanding at unprecedented rates, and some, especially in East and South-East Asia , have now experienced several decades of steady economic growth. This growth has taken place under a diversity of institutional, legal and political arrangements, few of which correspond closely to the "good government" recommendations of the international development community.

Core Themes

Analytically, our research agenda is shaped by the understanding that effective public institutions evolve through a political process of bargaining between the state and organised groups in society. In Phase Two, particular emphasis is being placed on research that might to contribute to thinking about the construction of common interests , i.e. public actions and policies that are biased toward the search for what interests unite different societal and state actors, rather than for the differences and tensions that may divide them. This emphasis on seeking common interests is not new to social and political thought. We take it up here because it seems highly relevant to many polities of the contemporary developing world.

A prominent feature of the historical process of the creation of effective nation states in Western Europe (and other now-rich) countries was the emergence of institutions that facilitated bargaining and negotiation between different societal and ruling groups within the framework of what came to be distinct nation-states. It was through these national-level processes that different groups came to share - and to perceive that they shared - a set of common 'national' interests. In many contemporary poor countries, especially those with small populations who are deeply exposed to aid, transnational investment, international migration, legal and illegal international trade (including trade in people, arms and narcotics), the nation is a relatively less distinct, bounded and compelling political arena. 'Domestic' political actors are highly oriented to the international environment. Civil society organisations receive many of their resources and ideas from overseas; governments receive much of their budget from foreign governments; much of the workforce seek jobs overseas; businesspeople are oriented to foreign investment and overseas markets, etc. This external orientation brings some benefits, and anyway is to some degree inevitable in an era of globalisation. There are however real disadvantages: limited opportunities and incentives for 'domestic' actors to engage, negotiate, interact and bargain with one another to seek common ground and collective resolution of 'national' issues. It is partly for this reason that politics in some poor countries often appears somewhat destructive. Because some major political actors are highly oriented to capturing and tapping external resources of various kinds, their motivations to seek 'normal' political compromises with other domestic political agents may be weak. Research cannot solve this problem, but may be able to highlight some ways around it.

The Research Programmes

The research is grouped under three programmes, each with a separate convener. The programmes are organised, managed and presented separately for practical reasons. Substantively, they connect closely to one another, linked to the core themes set out above.

The three key Research Programmes in Phase 2: 2005-2010 are:

Programme 1: Public Action & Private Investment
The central question addressed in this research is: 'How, in the political and institutional environments typical of poor countries, can public action bring about substantial increases in productive private investment that will generate pro-poor growth?'

Programme 2: Collective Action Around Service Delivery
This research theme emerges partially from the Phase 1: Programmes 2 (Collective Actors) and Programme 3 (Effective Service Delivery for the Poor). The programme will develop a substantial comparative research agenda on collective action by users/beneficiaries of public services such as health and education, especially in urban areas.

Programme 3: State Capacity
Help reshape understandings of how best to approach the issue of state capacity and undertake original empirical research in what appear to be the important unexplored issues.

During Phase 1: 2000-2005, the DRC Future State research agenda focused on three key Research Programmes:

Programme 1: Financing the State
This programme looks at the connection between political development and public finances; in short, the links between the way states raise money and the way they use it

Programme 2: Mobilising Public Action
The focus is on how liberalisation and globalisation are affecting domestic politics, and on how changes in domestic politics are affecting public policies that impinge on poverty.

Programme 3: Co-Producing Public Services
The aim of this research programme is to investigate ways in which states can more effectively provide services to poor and disadvantaged people through a range of productive partnerships with other agencies.




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