Decentralized Governance and Accountability: Academic Research and The Future of Donor Programming

Speeches Shim

This volume represents our examination of how academic research might instruct the future of donor programming on decentralized governance. As most readers know, beginning in the 1990s there was a wave of enthusiasm for the idea that decentralization would promote both democratic governance and economic efficiency. Throughout the 2000s, that optimism ran up against a second generation of academic research and program evaluation that defied naïve notions of decentralization as an easy solution to the twin challenges of poor governance and economic development.

In our view, much of the best research on decentralization over the last two decades has come from close collaborations between university-based researchers and institutions like the World Bank and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Sometimes this takes the shape of cooperation in designing studies using quantitative observational data or qualitative field research. Increasingly, it also involves collaboration between academics, development agencies, and governments on experiments that are built into the design of decentralization programs from the beginning.

Given that the volume and quality of this collaborative research have increased in recent decades, the time is right to review what we have learned about decentralized governance and how these lessons might inform future programming. As studies have become more exacting and careful in their approach to causal identification, they can also become more context-dependent. For instance, a decentralization program might appear to produce positive health outcomes in Uganda, while a largely similar program in Ghana produces no results. The development community and academics alike are left wondering whether the difference stems from small tweaks or mistakes in the design of the program (or the evaluation), or whether there is something distinctive about each context. In light of existing research, can we say anything beyond the bromide that “context matters”?

Tuesday, December 10, 2019 - 4:00pm