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Governance matters

Fresh from the press: World Bank Development Report highlights governance is key for development.

The success of development reforms, according to the World Bank’s Development Report 2017 Governance and the Law, is strongly influenced by local governance structures – that is, the way state and non-state actors interact to decide on policies. The report advises policy makers to pay attention to governance when designing reforms and, in particular, to power asymmetries in the policy arena.

In its focus on the education sector, the report suggests that understanding the incentives that powerful actors have to support a given reform is key to its successful implementation. The position of teachers’ unions for example is often crucial to reform success. In the area of development, reformers should incentivise key actors as an integral part of their strategies. Disclosing public information and informing the public about the (low) quality of education in a country, for example, can provide a strong incentive for key actors - such as policy makers and teachers - to become supporters of a reform. Citizen-led assessments in India (ASER Center) and East Africa (Uwezo), for example, follow this logic by publishing learning results to create more awareness with the hope that this will lead to an improvement in the quality of education.

The report also highlights the importance of governance considerations for polices related to anticorruption. In particular, unless the elites have sufficient incentive to obey anticorruption laws, reforms will be difficult to enforce. Once again, access to information can prove to be a powerful tool to address power asymmetries and encourage central actors to enforce measures against corruption. The disclosure of information can improve governance through increased accountability of elites and contestability of the decision making process. Such interventions can reduce the payoffs of corrupt officials and create the necessary incentives for stakeholders to obey anticorruption measures.

The report stresses that concentrating on “best practices” alone to design development reforms does not necessary lead to the desired outcome. Instead, effective policies must take into consideration local governance structures and consider how to improve them.