An Upside Down View of Governance – IDS (2010)


Many governance programmes fail because they focus solely on strengthening formal, rules-based institutions and ignore the connections between the public and private spheres of life. This paper draws together findings from a five-year research programme by the Centre for the Future State. It explores how elements of public authority are created through complex processes of bargaining between state and society actors, and the interaction of formal and informal institutions. This requires policymakers to rethink their assumptions about governance and development. While in the longer term it is desirable to build rules-based, inclusive institutions, progress in the short- to medium-term will depend more on indirect strategies that aim to influence the incentives and interests of local actors in the context of informal institutions and personalised relationships. This paper presents the following questions which can help to understand better the causes of bad governance and to identify ways of supporting more constructive bargaining between public and private actors:

  • What is shaping the interests of political elites?
  • What is shaping relations between politicians and investors—might they have common interests in supporting productive investment?
  • What might stimulate and sustain collective action by social groups to demand better services?
  • What informal local institutions are at work, and how are they shaping development outcomes?
  • Where does government get its revenue from, and how is that shaping its relationships with citizens?