This report from the Centre for the Future State challenges ways of thinking about governance. Getting better governance is not just a matter of ‘political will’, or of supplying finance and technical assistance to strengthen formal institutions. Public institutions cannot be constructed just by transferring institutional models from rich to poor countries. Instead of focusing on how to build the capacity of formal institutions, the Centre seeks to understand the underlying causes of bad governance. It explores why, in so many developing countries, states have real incentives to engage with their own citizens, and why citizens are not organising to pursue collective interests.