Implementation as 'a Long Voyage of Discovery': Rethinking Strategies for Building State Capability
Maison de la paix, Geneva
More than 50 years ago, Albert Hirschman (1967) implored development theorists and practitioners to recognize that the complexity of implementing tasks ranging "from technology to politics" was vastly underappreciated, not least because many such tasks are characterized by "a high degree of initial ignorance and uncertainty". Alas, his pleas went largely unheeded, even as subsequent observers raised similar concerns. I offer an explanation for why the dominant modalities for development assistance have, for the most part, remained impervious to this critique, and propose an alternative path forward. Forging such a path is vital: the passage of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 has vastly expanded the range and ambition of the policy challenges the world has pledged to accomplish by 2030, even as current evidence suggests prevailing levels and trends of state capability for implementation in most low-income countries are wholly inadequate.
Michael Woolcock is Lead Social Scientist in the World Bank's Development Research Group (where he has worked since 1998), and Lecturer in Public Policy (part-time) at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. With many collaborators across the disciplines, he is the author or editor of more than 80 journal articles and book chapters, as well as 10 books, most recently Building State Capability: Evidence, Analysis, Action (Oxford University Press 2017; with Matt Andrews and Lant Pritchett). For most of 2015-17 he was based in Malaysia, helping the World Bank establish its first Global Knowledge and Research Hub. An Australian national, he has a PhD in comparative-historical sociology from Brown University, and is the recipient of awards for best book (2012) and best article (2014) from the American Sociological Association's section on economic development.
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