How (Not) to Fix Problems that Matter: Assessing and Responding to Malawi's History of Institutional Reform

34 Pages Posted: 27 Dec 2017

See all articles by Katherine Bridges

Katherine Bridges

World Bank

Michael Woolcock

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

Date Written: December 22, 2017

Abstract

Malawi can be understood as a microcosm of institutional reform approaches in developing countries more broadly. A common feature of such approaches, whether implemented by government or donors, is reform initiatives that yield institutions that "look like" those found in higher-performing countries but rarely acquire the same underlying functionality. This paper presents a retrospective analysis of previous institutional reform projects in Malawi, as well as interviews with Malawi-based development practitioners. The paper finds a plethora of interventions that, merely by virtue of appearing to be in conformity with "best practices" elsewhere, are deemed to be successful yet fail to fix underlying problems, sometimes in contradiction to internal and public narratives of positive progress. This unhappy arrangement endures because a multitude of imperatives, incentives, and norms appear to keep governments and donors from more closely examining why such intense, earnest, and long-standing efforts at reform have, to date, yielded so few successes. This paper seeks to promote a shift in approach to institutional reform, offering some practical recommendations for reform-minded managers, project teams, and political leaders in which the focus is placed on crafting solutions to problems that Malawians themselves nominate, prioritize, and enact.

Keywords: Public Sector Administrative and Civil Service Reform, Democratic Government, Technology Industry, Technology Innovation, Non Governmental Organizations, Economics and Institutions, Public Sector Administrative & Civil Service Reform, De Facto Governments, Public Sector Management and Reform

Suggested Citation

Bridges, Katherine and Woolcock, Michael, How (Not) to Fix Problems that Matter: Assessing and Responding to Malawi's History of Institutional Reform (December 22, 2017). World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 8289. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3092439

Katherine Bridges (Contact Author)

World Bank ( email )

1818 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20433
United States

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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