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Escaping Capability Traps Through Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA)

31 Pages Posted: 10 Jul 2012 Last revised: 30 Aug 2012

Lant Pritchett

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS); Center for Global Development

Matthew Andrews

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Michael Woolcock

World Bank - Development Research Group (DECRG); Harvard University - Kennedy School of Government; Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Date Written: June 22, 2012

Abstract

Many reform initiatives in developing countries fail to achieve sustained improvements in performance because they are merely isomorphic mimicry — that is, governments and organizations pretend to reform by changing what policies or organizations look like rather than what they actually do. In addition, the flow of development resources and legitimacy without demonstrated improvements in performance undermines the impetus for effective action to build state capability or improve performance. This dynamic facilitates “capability traps” in which state capability stagnates, or even deteriorates, over long periods of time even though governments remain engaged in developmental rhetoric and continue to receive development resources. How can countries escape capability traps? We propose an approach, Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA), based on four core principles, each of which stands in sharp contrast with the standard approaches. First, PDIA focuses on solving locally nominated and defined problems in performance (as opposed to transplanting preconceived and packaged “best practice” solutions). Second, it seeks to create an authorizing environment for decision-making that encourages positive deviance and experimentation (as opposed to designing projects and programs and then requiring agents to implement them exactly as designed). Third, it embeds this experimentation in tight feedback loops that facilitate rapid experiential learning (as opposed to enduring long lag times in learning from ex post “evaluation”). Fourth, it actively engages broad sets of agents to ensure that reforms are viable, legitimate, relevant, and supportable (as opposed to a narrow set of external experts promoting the top-down diffusion of innovation).

JEL Classification: O10, O31, O33

Suggested Citation

Pritchett, Lant and Andrews, Matthew and Woolcock, Michael, Escaping Capability Traps Through Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) (June 22, 2012). Center for Global Development Working Paper No. 299; HKS Working Paper No. RWP12-036. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2102794 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2102794

Lant Pritchett (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-4562 (Phone)
617-496-2554 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://ksghome.harvard.edu/~lpritch/

Center for Global Development

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5th floor
Washington, DC 20036
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Matthew Andrews

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Mailbox 31
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-384-8039 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.hks.harvard.edu/about/faculty-staff-directory/matt-andrews

Michael Woolcock

World Bank - Development Research Group (DECRG) ( email )

1818 H. Street, N.W.
Mailstop MC3-306
Washington, DC 20433
United States
202-473-9258 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://econ.worldbank.org/staff/mwoolcock

Harvard University - Kennedy School of Government ( email )

Littauer-G-11G
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-495-0911 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://ksgfaculty.harvard.edu/michael_woolcock

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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