Development as a collective action problem: Addressing the real challenges of African governance - Booth (2012)


For some years there has been a general agreement amongst experts that the ‘good governance’ agenda is inadequate for achieving development goals. There have been calls for governance reforms to be based not on ‘best practices’ but on case-by-case diagnostics, so that the priorities and goals attain a ‘good fit’ with the particular needs of specific countries. This report argues, however, that this “alternative agenda still remains dangerously content-free” and claims that there is an urgent need to go beyond the mantra that the institutional challenges of development are complex and that every country is special. The findings of the five-year Africa Power and Politics Programme (APPP) begin to unpack what development should be doing differently. Its research ranged widely across countries and issues, but focused on one overarching question: “which institutional patterns and governance arrangements seem to work relatively well, and which work relatively badly in providing public goods, merit goods and other intermediate conditions for successful development?” In this report, the results of these enquiries are brought together with an overarching argument about what these and other research findings mean for current thinking and practice on the improvement of governance in Africa. The paper argues that most current understandings of the good governance agenda have reached a standstill and landed at the principal-agent approach to public management reform. The report appeals for more recognition of the “collective action problems that prevent both governments and groups of citizens from acting consistently as ‘principals’ in dynamic development processes”.