Can States Promote Game Changing Growth?

written by Matt Andrews

This post relates to the working paper, ‘Who Wins in the World Economy and English Football?’

The Question: ‘Can We Get Game Changing Growth?’

Governments are interested in addressing many problems. In our experience at Building State Capability (BSC), the number one problem always centers on the word ‘growth’. However, the problem is seldom as simple as ‘we are not growing’. Indeed, the vast majority of countries in the world have grown in the last generation, but policymakers we work with typically want more—especially in countries that one might call low or lower middle income.

These policymakers always ask us about the growth stories of the 60s and 70s in Singapore and South Korea, and about other East Asian Tigers. In so doing, we find them inquiring about how game changing growth happens in a country: growth that generates jobs young people actually want to do (to keep them at home), that is clean and sustainable, helps countries escape donor dependence, promotes national pride, allows sufficient income for citizens to enjoy real service access (showers in homes instead of from taps a mile away), fosters social cohesion, and more.

Most countries have not experienced this kind of game changing growth—even in the last generation’s historic global growth spurt. Rather, many countries have grown in absolute terms but stayed the same relatively—maintaining their position in a stubborn world order that does not seem to support significant change. Consider the chart below as evidence.

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Continue reading Can States Promote Game Changing Growth?

Registration for our free PDIA online course is now closed

We are delighted to announce that we will be offering The Practice of PDIA: Building Capability by Delivering Results once again, from February 3 – May 19, 2019. 

This is a 15-week course for practitioners who are in the weeds of development and actually want to learn how to do PDIA. In this course you will have the opportunity to work on your nominated problem, as a team, using our tools. The course will include video lectures, required reading, assignments, reflection exercises, online discussions and group work. We estimate that the weekly effort will be between 5-8 hours. We will use the “Building State Capability: Evidence, Analysis, Action” book as the core text. You can read about how alumni of this course are using PDIA in Pakistan, Indonesia, Guinea, and the Dominican Republic.

Continue reading Registration for our free PDIA online course is now closed

How often do public policies really fail? A question to help you escape the policy futility trap

written by Matt Andrews

Last week I blogged about the ‘public policy futility trap’ in which countries get stuck when a negative feedback loop institutionalizes itself in the public policy domain. Experiences of past policy failure erodes the confidence (of citizens and public officials) to deliver in future, which undermines the potential for positive future policy results, which in turn reinforces the view that  government cannot ‘get things done’, and on and on and on.

I think many countries are stuck in this trap, where negative feedback loops frustrate effort after effort to improve government capabilities. Initiatives designed to help governments get things done tend to fail when no one (in the citizenry or government) actually believes government can get things done.

So, how do governments get unstuck?

This is the question we plan to address—in practice —through the forthcoming Implementing Public Policy executive education course (starting in May 2019). The answer we suggest is simple: challenge the existing negative feedback loop by promoting cases of implementation success that can become the basis of new positive feedback loops—that help citizens and officials believe that more is possible tomorrow than it was yesterday.

Continue reading How often do public policies really fail? A question to help you escape the policy futility trap

Implementing Public Policy: Is it possible to escape the ‘Public Policy Futility’ trap?

written by Matt Andrews

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Polls suggest that governments across the world face high levels of citizen dissatisfaction, and low levels of citizen trust. The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer found, for instance, that only 43% of those surveyed trust Canada’s government. Only 15% of those surveyed trust government in South Africa, and levels are low in other countries too—including Brazil (at 24%), South Korea (28%), the United Kingdom (36%), Australia, Japan, and Malaysia (37%), Germany (38%), Russia (45%), and the United States (47%). Similar surveys find trust in government averaging only 40-45% across member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and suggest that as few as 31% and 32% of Nigerians and Liberians trust government.

There are many reasons why trust in government is deficient in so many countries, and these reasons differ from place to place. One common factor across many contexts, however, is a lack of confidence that governments can or will address key policy challenges faced by citizens.

Studies show that this confidence deficiency stems from citizen observations or experiences with past public policy failures, which promote jaundiced views of their public officials’ capabilities to deliver. Put simply, citizens lose faith in government when they observe government failing to deliver on policy promises, or to ‘get things done’. Incidentally, studies show that public officials also often lose faith in their own capabilities (and those of their organizations) when they observe, experience or participate in repeated policy implementation failures. Put simply, again, these public officials lose confidence in themselves when they repeatedly fail to ‘get things done’.

Continue reading Implementing Public Policy: Is it possible to escape the ‘Public Policy Futility’ trap?

Introducing the PDIA Toolkit

written by Salimah Samji

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In 2009, we began to explore how to do PDIA in the real world. Our early engagements helped us learn, develop and refine our tools – some of our key ideas (problem construction, problem driven convening, problem deconstruction, sequencing, action pushes etc.) emerged from this process.

In 2012, the Building State Capability program was created to house the action research, learning and experimentation of the PDIA approach. Since then, we have tried, tested, iterated and adapted our tools in our direct work with 349 government officials, across 45 teams, in 12 countries (Africa, Sri Lanka and Albania). In addition, 970 development practitioners in 83 countries (47% in Africa and 22% in Asia) have used these tools in our free PDIA online courses and have found them useful.

In keeping with our commitment to democratize PDIA knowledge, and to make it freely accessible to those who are in the trenches of implementing development policies and programs, we are proud to release the PDIAtoolkit : A DIY approach to Solving Complex Problems (Version 1.0). It is an open access publication, available online and distributed under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution –Non Commercial –No Derivatives 4.0 International license (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0).

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Bottom-up PDIA and the fishbone diagram – “a tool for life, not just for business”

Guest blog written by Rosie Pinnington and Iana Barenboim

In Oxford Policy Management’s DFID-funded MUVA programme, informal female market sellers have been using the PDIA-inspired fishbone diagram to diagnose their own problems. This has helped them identify the factors that limit their businesses’ growth, allowing MUVA to be led by the views and experiences of the women they seek to support. But, perhaps more importantly, it has facilitated the development of the problem-solving skills required for greater personal and professional growth amongst marginalised female market sellers. This, as one participant commented, makes the fishbone diagram “a tool for life, not just for business”. Continue reading Bottom-up PDIA and the fishbone diagram – “a tool for life, not just for business”

Announcing our newest online course: Creating Public Value


We are delighted to announce that we will be offering a brand new free online course entitled Creating Public Value, from October 7 – December 2, 2018. The course will be taught by Mark H. Moore, Professor of Strategic Public Management at the Harvard Kennedy School.

This is an 8-week course for individuals who have executive responsibility in government (whether senior, midlevel, or frontline) and in the nonprofit sector as well as for social entrepreneurs and anyone who wants to create public value. If you think of yourself as a public value creator, or would like to know how to become one, then this course is for you!

Continue reading Announcing our newest online course: Creating Public Value