Four implications for work in development
As a political scientist specializing in the comparative politics of development, including particular attention to issues of governance and democracy, I have followed this year's World Development Report with special interest. I have not been alone. WDRs usually attract attention, but this year's report seems to have attracted more than most. Several constituencies have pushed for some time for a WDR on the topics addressed in this report, and there thus was a lot riding on it in terms of hopes and expectations for a strong statement on governance.
This WDR does not disappoint. As more than one commentator has noted, it is a landmark document, with potentially far-reaching implications for work in international development. I focus on four implications here. The first two have been highlighted in other commentaries, but are important to review. The second two have received less attention thus far, but in my view are no less important.
The report brings power and politics squarely into view in work and thinking on development.
First, the report brings power and politics squarely into view in work and thinking on development. For political scientists like me, this is hardly a controversial point. But, it is a very important point to make for the field of development more broadly, and for development economics in particular, where technocratic and apolitical approaches have been so influential. The report draws impressively on diverse literatures to advance a nuanced argument about the ways in which governance, politics, and institutions influence development outcomes.
This is not to say that this is the first statement by the World Bank on governance. It has worked on governance for some time, and several previous WDRs have dealt with governance-related topics (see, e.g., 1997, 2002, and 2004). But, the World Bank traditionally has worked with a notably more narrow approach to governance, and it has had an uneasy relationship with discussion of political governance, power, elections, and civil and political rights--topics considered centrally in this report.
A second broad contribution of this WDR is its argument for a focus on institutional "function over form"--that "it is important to think not only about what form institutions should have, but also about the functions that institutions must perform." As David Booth writes, this WDR "giv[es] coherent meaning to 'good fit'...