Institutions, Incentives and Service Provision: Bringing Politics Back In

ESID Working Paper No 18

40 Pages Posted: 29 Jan 2014 Last revised: 11 Feb 2015

See all articles by Brian Levy

Brian Levy


Michael Walton

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Date Written: February 1, 2013


This paper outlines a conceptual framework for analyzing the politics of service provisioning. The approach uses as its point of departure the 'accountability framework' of relations between citizens, clients and service providers, laid out in the World Bank’s 2004 World Development Report. That framework highlights two distinctive ways of governing public service provision -- a performance-oriented top-down hierarchy with goals shaped by the overall political process, and participatory approaches which link clients and providers. But a focus on these two polar approaches deflects attention from the vast spaces in the middle: the many countries where governance falls well short of 'good', but is better than disastrous; and the many layers within a specific sector in between the top-levels of policy-making and the service provision front line. A central hypothesis of this paper is that these in-between spaces are major domains of political, stakeholder and organizational behavior. These are sources both of within-country and across-country variation in the quality of public service provision and also provide the locus where many opportunities for achieving gains in performance are to be found.

Keywords: Service provision, methods, politics, governance

Suggested Citation

Levy, Brian and Walton, Michael, Institutions, Incentives and Service Provision: Bringing Politics Back In (February 1, 2013). ESID Working Paper No 18. Available at SSRN: or

Brian Levy (Contact Author)

Independent ( email )

No Address Available
United States

Michael Walton

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

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-4562 (Phone)
617-496-5747 (Fax)

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