Good governance is considered the key to poverty reduction. But how can it be achieved? What should come first? How should things be done? This study by Harvard University for the World Bank suggests that expectations of good governance for poor countries are high. It outlines ways of building towards a concept of ‘good enough governance’.
Getting good governance that contributes to poverty reduction is extraordinarily difficult. Even getting good governance is fraught with challenges. A major problem is the size of the agenda. The ‘must be done’ list to encourage development and reduce poverty is huge. More seriously, there is little guidance about what’s essential, what should come first and what should follow and what is feasible. Focussing on sorting out these issues might result in the goal of good governance being recast as ‘good enough governance’, that is, a condition of minimally acceptable government performance and civil society engagement that does not hinder economic and political development and that permits poverty reduction initiatives to go forward. Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) have encouraged governments to define the tasks they must take on to reduce poverty, but this has not made the list of governance reforms more manageable.
There are a series of issues connected with making the good governance agenda more manageable, advancing the cause of better performance and emphasising the political nature of policy and institutional reform. These can be summarised in a series of recommendations for promoting ‘good enough’ government:
- Find ways to reduce the extensive agenda. Research is needed to programme activities and assistance packages that are feasible and geared to country-specific conditions.
- Prioritise governance reforms in order to save energy, resources and political capital as initiatives to reduce poverty are undertaken.
- Use historical experience and lessons drawn from specific countries in order to clarify ‘good enough’ governance.
- Encourage the development of governments that can provide basic public goods such as order, security and legitimate authority.
- Reforms that focus on management, leadership and organisational behaviour, culture and mission are critically important.
- Enhancing the capacity of groups in civil society to represent their interests, make demands on government and hold it accountable is an important way to achieve the longer- term goal of better public sector performance.
Many of the activities suggested above are ones that will engage donor agencies. There are also other activities for which donors are particularly well suited because of their expertise and the resources they command. These include:
- Investing in more research about governance.
- Resisting the temptation simply to add to the list of reforms that must be undertaken and concentrate instead on discriminating between them.
- Contributing to building analytic capacity within developing country governments and within civil society organisations about governance issues.
- Focusing government attention on critically important yet feasible reforms.
- Tailoring governance initiatives to conditions and capacities in individual countries.