The Political Economy of Public Sector ‘Pockets of Productivity’

The nature of governance and the quality of state agencies are weak in too much of the developing world. Hence considerable donor resources have been spent on civil service reform, technical assistance and other remedies — but generally to little effect.

Nevertheless, scattered throughout poor governance countries are state agencies that work reasonably effectively and are dedicated to some aspect of the collective good. Such agencies, operating in unpromising surroundings, have come to be called ‘pockets of productivity.’ How do they come to be and to persist? This research project, which is an advanced stage of development, proposes to move our understanding of this vital question beyond the qualitative case-studies which currently populate the literature to a more systematic, quantitative and rigorous level.

The projected project will focus on the internal and external ‘political economy’ of government agencies in poor governance countries and test hypotheses from the literature on the factors that incline them toward becoming ‘pockets of productivity’. One set of hypotheses concern the ways in which an agency’s functional imperatives dictate its mode of operation and the nature of its relations with its clienteles. Another set of hypotheses focus on the external political economy and range from ones about the sequence in which an agency is able to generate costs and benefits for its internal and external constituencies to other ones about the effects of patron-client political systems.

The projected study will concentrate on health, agricultural and tax agencies. A matched sample of 5 ‘productive’ and 5 other agencies in each of a sample of 23 states with poor governance will be examined. Both quantitative and qualitative methods will be used.

The proposed project will extend the considerable exploratory research the Principal Investigator and his doctoral students have already undertaken related to this subject and build on his extensive experience in managing large, multi-country collaborative projects.

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Project details

start date
22 January 2007
end date
22 January 2010


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