Please help sharpen up the World Bank’s theory of change on governance and law

The World Bank is helping us hone our speed reading skills this week, by publishing a draft of its forthcoming World wdr-2017-logoDevelopment Report 2017 on Governance and the Law and asking for comments by Friday.

Someone has helpfully put a track changes version online here, comparing the new (‘green cover’) draft with the previous (‘yellow cover’) one, which I blogged about in July, but it’s still a pretty mind bending task. My skim of the overview and chapters on elite bargains and civil society engagement suggest that with a couple of minor exceptions, the new draft seems to have retained the good stuff and done little to address the gaps I identified last time around.

Might post more in a couple of days once I’ve had a few more days to digest all this (along with a few other Oxfam wonks who are trying to read it). For now, one of the questions that I’m pondering is how to make sure this WDR has impact on decision makers. In other words, how much attention can such a paper get and what more could be done to turn this into action? This because, despite it’s considerable merits, the report lacks a memorable meme, diagram or proposition that will stick in people’s heads, and find its way into policy papers and decision-making over the next few years.

The closest it comes is this Box in the overview. So I thought I’d put it up and see what people think, and whether you have any suggestions for improving it – and that does not necessarily mean making it more complicated! Comments at the bottom of this page welcome but also send your thoughts to the Bank before Friday if you can. Here we go.

What does the WDR 2017 framework mean for action?

The policy effectiveness chain This Report argues that policy effectiveness cannot be understood only from a technical perspective, but rather must consider the process through actors bargain about the design and implementation of policies, within a specific institutional setting. The consistency and continuity of policies over time (commitment), the alignment of beliefs and preferences (coordination), as well as the voluntary compliance and absence of free riding (cooperation) are key institutional functions that influence how effective policies will be. But what does that mean for specific policy actions?

Figure 0.10.1 presents a way to think about specific policies in a way that includes the elements that can increase the likelihood of effectiveness. This “policy effectiveness chain” reads from right to left, starting with a clear definition of the objective to be achieved and following a series of well-specified steps.

Step 1 What? Define the development objective.

Step 2. Why? Identify the underlying functional problem (commitment, coordination, cooperation).

Step 3. Which? Identify the relevant entry point(s) for reform (incentives, preferences/beliefs, contestability).

Step 4. How? Identify the best mechanism for intervention (menu of policies and laws).

Step 5. Who? Identify key stakeholders needed to build a coalition for implementation (elites, citizens, international partners).


My thoughts: this has elements of a good power and systems approach, starting with a problem and context analysis, looking at the policies that might drive change, and mapping out the stakeholders, but it has some major gaps.

  • It operates almost entirely on the Right Hand side of the Rao Kelleher framework, (below) i.e. the formal side. Often, governancerao-and-kelleher-2x2 problems involve the left hand side, in the world of informal power (social norms, people’s sense of ‘power within’ – assertiveness, confidence, agency)
  • It seeks to identify drivers of change, and build coalitions around them (good), but where are the blockers and what does the report advocate in terms of overcoming them?

I suspect there are others, but weirdly for England in September, it’s too hot, and my brain has shut down – anyone care to help? The prize is a World Bank endorsed view on governance and institutional reform that could be really influential – get stuck in. My advice to the WDR team is get a brainstorm going on the big idea, with the right combination of wonks and comms people in the room – it will pay dividends.

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7 Responses to “Please help sharpen up the World Bank’s theory of change on governance and law”
  1. Sjarnvig

    I have deliberately had to block out knowing about this draft. I just couldn’t produce anything convincingly meaningful at this speed. (Apart from all the usual stuff)
    But, if anyone with a very efficient mind is reading this, please consider if the steps in the policy chain are discount rates, as Ostrom would probably have termed them, or indeed the very elements that constitutes an institution.

    I’m very impressed overall, btw.


  2. “My skim of the overview and chapters on elite bargains and civil society engagement suggest that with a couple of minor exceptions, the new draft seems to have retained the good stuff and done little to address the gaps I identified last time around.”

    What’s the point of asking for feedback if 5 months later you still don’t incorporate it?

  3. carlos

    One comment, or rather a question, is to what extent desirable outcomes (redistribution, rule of law etc.) may be the result of extraordinary circumstances (critical junctures followed by path dependent processes) rather than a systemic result of the interplay of a number of factors. I am thinking specifically of how hard it is to understand the emergence of welfare states without addressing the consequences of world wars I and II, and later on of the “fear of communism and revolution” as mayor drivers of elites accepting new rules of the political and economic game.

  4. Thanks for sharing your preliminary thoughts, Duncan.

    Our’s are here–wmGILuPauNKJpcYAz-FMDd0hI_mLw3HtfafS5UU/edit – open for comments.

    Here’s a teaser:

    1. We welcome the focus of the WDR for 2017 on governance and the law, and the clear acknowledgement that politics is central to development. There is huge value in having the World Bank’s flagship report lead with this message.

    2. However – as we argued in our July 26th blogpost – the WDR can and should do much more than restate that politics matters. The revised overview goes further in this direction, but we feel that the WDR could and should go further still in exploring the potential of politically-engaged adaptive learning, and adaptive programming, to address the political dynamics that are a key factor in creating the implementation gaps that para 0.2 of the WDR Overview notes.

  5. Dennis Arends

    I appreciate the main questions that each of them has its own component in the process. These are also the main questions asked in many development programmes and projects. Nothing new there. I also understand that the chain inevitably needs to be presented more or less linear, although I hope that in the final report this will be less so. Overall, I think this presentation is simply too linear. What I do not quite understand is why the actors only come at the very end. In line with your/Duncan’s view on the missing informal element, I would think that actors and their power and drivers come into play much earlier in the process. Indeed, the ay it is presented now seems very technical and not geared towards power structures that are at play.

  6. A brief additional thought, in addition to our comments on the latest draft, stimulated in part by Duncan’s blogpost.

    I understand that the box in the current draft of the WDR is perhaps intended more as a map of the argument in the report, which is necessarily linear/a sequence of chapters, rather than a theory of change in which I’d hope to see some circularity/feedback loops/learning. Nevertheless, a diagram which does set out the theory of change would be helpful.

    Our starting point would be something along the lines of the adaptive learning cycle that we set out in our learning plan, but a version that highlighted the World Bank’s role (rather than that of Global Integrity) in helping to support politically-engaged adaptive learning.

    Here’s the image:

    And/or a diagram might sketch out the logic that seems to me to be at heart of Stuti Khemani and Shanta Devarajan’s recent paper, with targeted transparency supporting healthier political engagement, through cycles of adaptive learning, and with that contributing to more effective governance and better development outcomes. That is, the diagram would more directly sketch an answer to the very helpful question of: “if politics is the problem, how can external actors be part of the solution?”

    Of course, giving a central place to such a diagram and theory of change would have significant implications for the rest of the WDR, which it would be challenging to address at this stage in the process; it’s not clear to me for instance how one would best explain the relationship between improving the nature of political engagement and addressing the three-C governance function challenges (commitment, coordination, cooperation) that are part of the WDR narrative.

    But, I don’t think this is impossible, and it would have big potential pay-offs, including in terms of moving the WDR more towards operational implications.

    We’d love to be involved in the process of thinking through what such a diagram might look like!