Please help sharpen up the World Bank’s theory of change on governance and law

September 14, 2016 7 By Duncan Green

The World Bank is helping us hone our speed reading skills this week, by publishing a draft of its forthcoming World wdr-2017-logoDevelopment Report 2017 on Governance and the Law and asking for comments by Friday.

Someone has helpfully put a track changes version online here, comparing the new (‘green cover’) draft with the previous (‘yellow cover’) one, which I blogged about in July, but it’s still a pretty mind bending task. My skim of the overview and chapters on elite bargains and civil society engagement suggest that with a couple of minor exceptions, the new draft seems to have retained the good stuff and done little to address the gaps I identified last time around.

Might post more in a couple of days once I’ve had a few more days to digest all this (along with a few other Oxfam wonks who are trying to read it). For now, one of the questions that I’m pondering is how to make sure this WDR has impact on decision makers. In other words, how much attention can such a paper get and what more could be done to turn this into action? This because, despite it’s considerable merits, the report lacks a memorable meme, diagram or proposition that will stick in people’s heads, and find its way into policy papers and decision-making over the next few years.

The closest it comes is this Box in the overview. So I thought I’d put it up and see what people think, and whether you have any suggestions for improving it – and that does not necessarily mean making it more complicated! Comments at the bottom of this page welcome but also send your thoughts to the Bank before Friday if you can. Here we go.

What does the WDR 2017 framework mean for action?

The policy effectiveness chain This Report argues that policy effectiveness cannot be understood only from a technical perspective, but rather must consider the process through actors bargain about the design and implementation of policies, within a specific institutional setting. The consistency and continuity of policies over time (commitment), the alignment of beliefs and preferences (coordination), as well as the voluntary compliance and absence of free riding (cooperation) are key institutional functions that influence how effective policies will be. But what does that mean for specific policy actions?

Figure 0.10.1 presents a way to think about specific policies in a way that includes the elements that can increase the likelihood of effectiveness. This “policy effectiveness chain” reads from right to left, starting with a clear definition of the objective to be achieved and following a series of well-specified steps.

Step 1 What? Define the development objective.

Step 2. Why? Identify the underlying functional problem (commitment, coordination, cooperation).

Step 3. Which? Identify the relevant entry point(s) for reform (incentives, preferences/beliefs, contestability).

Step 4. How? Identify the best mechanism for intervention (menu of policies and laws).

Step 5. Who? Identify key stakeholders needed to build a coalition for implementation (elites, citizens, international partners).


My thoughts: this has elements of a good power and systems approach, starting with a problem and context analysis, looking at the policies that might drive change, and mapping out the stakeholders, but it has some major gaps.

  • It operates almost entirely on the Right Hand side of the Rao Kelleher framework, (below) i.e. the formal side. Often, governancerao-and-kelleher-2x2 problems involve the left hand side, in the world of informal power (social norms, people’s sense of ‘power within’ – assertiveness, confidence, agency)
  • It seeks to identify drivers of change, and build coalitions around them (good), but where are the blockers and what does the report advocate in terms of overcoming them?

I suspect there are others, but weirdly for England in September, it’s too hot, and my brain has shut down – anyone care to help? The prize is a World Bank endorsed view on governance and institutional reform that could be really influential – get stuck in. My advice to the WDR team is get a brainstorm going on the big idea, with the right combination of wonks and comms people in the room – it will pay dividends.