Does the devolution of responsibility for service provision to elected local authorities improve the delivery of services to the poor? This is the major challenge of democratic decentralisation and a key benchmark for assessment.
Many governments devolve power and resources to local bodies which assume responsibility for health, education and other essential services. Decentralised service delivery is now a key determinant for less developed countries (LDCs) to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
While decentralisation potentially increases accountability and participation at the local level, for poor people the real test lies in whether it improves services and material well-being. Improvements in democratic accountability and service delivery are not mutually exclusive but can complement and reinforce each other.
However, decentralisation policy initiatives often strengthen local democracy without considering benefits to service delivery. The challenge is that evidence to support decentralised service delivery is fragmentary and inconsistent, and conditions for successful devolution of services are poorly understood.
The articles in this IDS Bulletin discuss these issues, with evidence on service delivery outcomes from a range of developing countries, and implications for designing reforms that maximise prospects for improvements in the quality and access of services for the poor.
Democratic decentralisation is still a relatively new phenomenon in most LDCs and positive results will take time to mature. Short-term and time-bound interventions will not work; steady, incremental and well-resourced initiatives that build capacity and increase accountability are instead the surest route to realising the promise of democratic decentralisation.
Table of contents
Introduction: Decentralising Service Delivery? (pdf) Mark Robinson
Does Decentralisation Improve Equity and Efficiency in Public Service Delivery Provision? Mark Robinson
Decentralisation and Service Delivery: Lessons from Sub-Saharan Africa Diana Conyers
Does Devolution Deliver? Institutional and Political Dimensions of Self-help Programmes in India Craig Johnson, Priya Deshingkar, John Farrington and Daniel Start
Accountability Failures and the Decentralisation of Service Delivery in Pakistan Shandana Khan Mohmand and Ali Cheema
A System in Waiting: Improving Service Delivery through Decentralisation Reforms in Cambodia Luc Spyckerelle and Joanne Morrison
Decentralisation, Politics and Service Delivery in Mexico Julian G. Salazar
Decentralisation and Difference: Indigenous Peoples and Health System Reform in the Brazilian Amazon Alex Shankland and Renato Athias