Wizards and clerics, democracies and autocracies

This years marks the 40th anniversary of the publication of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). For those unfamiliar with it, D&D was the grandfather of tabletop roleplaying games (RPGs), which mix storytelling, improv, strategy and chance: each player assumes the role of one character with attributes and skills, vices and virtues, and together they face the challenges put forth by one of the players – the Dungeon Master or Game Master – who controls the narration and plays all other characters and creatures. It’s a simple notion, but over the last forty years D&D has had a considerable influence on a large swatch of modern pop culture. Continue reading Wizards and clerics, democracies and autocracies

ESID has a shiny new website

Last week Effective-States.org made a quantum leap into the 21st century by leaving html behind and diving head first into a WordPress-powered adventure.  All our projects are now included, core researchers have profile pages, and there are tags everywhere (you can find me under PEA, public sector reform and state capacity). Plus we have just launched the new ESID blog, which I will be editing with the help of our communications and editing team. My chief goal is to turn it into a platform for online commentary on the politics of development (guest posts are welcome!), as well as a window into how a research organization actually works, what the research process looks like in the months or years between proposal and peer review. Stay tuned.

7 tips from Hemingway on how to write social science

Via BoingBoing I have come across this little gem in OpenCulture: “Seven Tips From Ernest Hemingway on How to Write Fiction“. Given that the mediocre-to-appalling quality of academic writing seems to be a neverending concern, I think that it may be useful to consider Hemingway’s tips are actually applicable to how we write in the social sciences. Continue reading 7 tips from Hemingway on how to write social science

New working paper on Public Sector Reform

Here’s the abstract for my ESID Working Paper (25, October 2013) with Badru Bukenya, which was just released on the ESID website under the title “Building State Capacity for Inclusive Development: The Politics of Public Sector Reform”:

A capable state is essential for inclusive development, and throughout the developing world governments and international development agencies are seeking to build it through a multifaceted agenda of Public Sector Reform (PSR). This paper presents an analytical review of the PSR agenda, emphasizing the political contestation inherent to the development of state capacity, and argues for a more nuanced and politically-informed research agenda. We begin by examining the various definitions of state capacity that are commonly employed by researchers, and settle on bureaucratic capacity as the transversal precondition for policy implementation. State capacity so understood has two components, effectiveness and accountability, and two domains, internal and external. Their intersection generates four broad dimensions of reform: organizational rationality, administrative restraint, social embeddedness and political autonomy; and each dimension in turn is likely to exhibit a different pattern of political contestation due to the parallel incentives for patrimonialism, corruption, oligarchy, and capture.

We use this analytical framework to categorise and examine the major components of the PSR agenda, assessing their rates of success or failure according to the available evidence: we find that the relative failure of the PSR agenda so far is due to its reliance on flawed assumptions about the administrative politics of state capacity. We then evaluate whether new models that try to bypass central bureaucracies are likely to encounter greater success; specifically, we review the Africa Governance Initiative, the Open Government Partnership, and the ‘hybrid models’ approach of the Africa Power and Politics Programme, and argue that all of them will be forced to confront the same politics of state capacity in the end. We close the paper by outlining a set of tentative guidelines for future research at ESID and elsewhere, suggesting a greater focus on the role of elites, informal institutions, the legislature as a non-state component of state capacity, the distinction between transversal and sectoral approaches, and finally the modalities and objectives of external assistance.


Egipto: La “teoría sangrienta” de la historia

Las calles de El Cairo son, en el mejor de los casos, un laberinto caótico, lleno de gente, autobuses atestados y taxistas suicidas. Pero hoy este caos más o menos coherente puede ser reemplazado por un caos trágico si se encuentran las dos manifestaciones convocadas en torno a la nueva propuesta de constitución para Egipto, una a favor y otra en contra. Dentro de algo más de un mes se cumplirán dos años desde el inicio de las macroprotestas populares que acabaron con el régimen de Hosni Mubarak. A la vista de los acontecimientos de los últimos días hay quien se preguntará si la “Primavera Árabe” no ha sido un fracaso. La respuesta es un directo y contundente “no”. Continue reading Egipto: La “teoría sangrienta” de la historia