- Building on what’s there can help maximise existing capacity and develop contextually appropriate reform
- The process of reform may be more important than its content
- Incremental, adaptive reforms can generate learning and momentum for change.
Building on what works
Grindle (2007) points out that governance interventions are not introduced in a vacuum; some capacity is always present. Asking ‘what is there to build on?’ enables development agencies to identify where they can facilitate small changes that would not otherwise happen (Grindle, 2007; Booth, 2011, p. S22). Booth (2013, p. 3) describes this as being ‘ locally anchored ’ – addressing contextual constraints and opportunities, and being open to building on local practices. Fukuyama and Levy (2010) suggest that ‘just enough governance’ might be a feasible strategy in some environments, addressing discrete institutional barriers that are seen as binding constraints rather than seeking wholesale simultaneous change.
Booth (2012, p. xi) finds that local problem-solving has often involved adapting modern state practices to local practices. Such decisions to ‘work with the grain’ need to consider the risk of weakening capacity ‘to generate other equally or more desirable transformations in society’, or of breaching principles of entitlement and equity; such decisions might involve compromise (Villalón & Tidjani-Alou, 2012, p. 4).
Hybrid designs in education institutional reform
In much of Africa – particularly Francophone Africa – the educational systems inherited from colonial times have been ‘a very poor “fit” with societal demands and cultural values. The result has been a history of very low school enrolment and completion rates, and a consequent widespread failure of educational policies to support developmental outcomes.’ (Villalón & Tidjani-Alou, 2012, p. 1)
Recent efforts to address this failure in Mali, Niger and Senegal have harnessed the strength of popular religiosity. Booth (2012, p. 86) explains that: ‘These reforms attempt to address the unpopularity and poor educational performance of the government school systems by incorporating elements that reflect Muslim values and expectations while also ensuring training for employment. Findings suggest that incorporating religion into programmes has been highly effective in encouraging parents to send children, especially girls, to public schools. The main risk is of overburdening students and stretching curricula too thinly.’
However, the cases ‘do not suggest a rejection of the state as a primary actor in development’. Rather, ‘the “grain” of popular demand in contemporary Africa is not a desire for “traditional” institutions, but for modern state structures that have been adapted to, or infused with, local values.’ (Booth, 2012, p. 87)
Incremental adaptive change
Case studies highlight the benefits of incremental, collaborative initiatives that can demonstrate clear, tangible results, generate learning and build momentum for change (Cox et al., 2012). Adler et al. (2009) draw on experiences from Indonesia and Cambodia to show that focusing on the reform process as a change mechanism and supporting interim institutions can foster the development of locally appropriate institutions. They suggest that interim institutions need to be ‘sufficiently removed from the state to escape the pull of its vested interests’, but close enough to enable reforms to ‘spill over into the mainstream’ (Adler et al., 2009, p. 17; see below).
A long-term, incremental approach might not be feasible where there are strong political imperatives for quick and large-scale action, such as in fragile states (Walton, 2011). However, increasing evidence from experience in fragile states finds that an incremental process to design policy frameworks and develop capacity has been less risky and is therefore preferable (Batley & Mcloughlin, 2010).
Ensuring that incremental approaches accommodate coordinated and sequenced reform plans and pooled resources might be challenging. Evaluations of institutional reform continue to point out the pitfalls of donors working in professional and technical silos (Fölscher et al., 2012). Lawson (2012) and others (Barber et al., 2011) find that strong coordination arrangements are important to monitor and guide reforms. This could complement an incremental, evolutionary approach to reform, but has been seen by some as promoting a more top-down approach.
Labour Arbitration Council in Cambodia
The ILO-supported Arbitration Council, set up in 2003, conducts negotiations between the state, international companies, and labour unions in the garment and tourism sectors. It implements the rule of law and acts as a forum for dialogue between organised labour and management. The Council has addressed hundreds of labour disputes and has, for the most part, found resolutions acceptable to all parties. Key strategies included:
- Finding cracks in the infrastructure of power (cf. Hirschman, 1963): Political factors created an enabling environment for the Council’s establishment as part of incremental reform. Factors included conditionalities on labour rights in trade agreements with the US; the emergence of a potentially volatile union movement; and growing sensitivity among international consumers to how their clothing was produced.
- Promoting equitable political contestation: The Council introduced more equitable and transparent ‘rules of the game’.
- Harnessing collective action and diverse viewpoints: At its best, this facilitates more equitable forums and decision-making modalities than would otherwise be prevalent.
- Drawing on policy entrepreneurs and local knowledge: ILO’s Chief Technical Advisor (CTA) was effective because of his neutrality and significant experience in Cambodia.
Source: Adler et al., 2009, pp. 5-10
- Adler, D., Sage, C. & Woolcock, M. (2009). Interim institutions and the development process: Opening spaces for reform in Cambodia and Indonesia (Working Paper 86). Manchester: Brooks World Poverty Institute. See document online
- Barber, M., Kihn, P. & Moffit, A. (Spring 2011). Deliverology: From idea to implementation. McKinsey on Government, 6. See document online
- Batley, R. A. & Mcloughlin, C. (2010). Engagement with non-state service providers in fragile states. Development Policy Review, 28(2), 131-154. See document online
- Booth, D. (2011). Aid, institutions and governance: What have we learned? Development Policy Review, 29, s5–s26. See document online
- Booth, D. (2012). Development as a collective action problem: Addressing the real challenges of African governance (Synthesis report of the Africa Power and Politics Programme). London: Overseas Development Institute. See document online
- Booth, D. (2013). Facilitating development: An arm’s length approach to aid. London: Overseas Development Institute. See document online
- Cox, M., Duituturaga, E. & Scheye, E. (2012). Building on local strengths. Evaluation of Australian law and justice assistance. Canberra : Ausaid. See document online
- Fölscher, A., Mkandawire, A., & Faragher, R. (2012). Evaluation of public financial management reform in Malawi 2001–2010 (Final Country Case Study Report). Stockholm: Sida. See document online
- Fukuyama, F., & Levy, B. (2010). Development strategies—Integrating governance and growth (Policy Research Working paper WPS5196). Washington, DC: The World Bank.
- Grindle, M. S. (2007). Good enough governance revisited. Development Policy Review, 25(5), 533-74. See document online
- Hirschman, A. O. (1963). Journeys toward progress: Studies of economic policy-making in Latin America. (New York: The Twentieth Century Fund).
- Lawson, A. (2012). Evaluation of public financial management reform: Burkina Faso, Ghana and Malawi 2001–2010 (Final Synthesis Report). Joint evaluation commissioned by Sida, Danida and the African Development Bank. Stockholm: Sida. See document online
- Villalon, L. & Tidjani-Alou, M. (2012). Religion and education in Africa: Harnessing religious values to developmental ends (Policy Brief 07). London: Overseas Development Institute. See document online
- Walton, O. (2011). Evidence for the effectiveness of a process approach (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 755). Birmingham: GSDRC. See document online