Findings on the politics of service delivery presented at Danida seminar
Senior researcher Claire Mcloughlin has been sharing findings on the politics of service delivery this week with members of the Danish government's development cooperation staff. She spoke at the Danida seminar Building Institutions and Delivering Services: What Works and Why?, which took place on 28-30 October.
In her presentation, Claire explained three key points about what the evidence says on this issue:
- 'Evidence' of politics is limited, and so approaches that combine rigorous analysis of outcomes with political analysis or process tracing are needed.
- There is no formula, but progress (or reversals) in service delivery may be supported by the nature of the political settlement, elite incentives, political conjunctures and embedded accountability.
- Political conditions are not the only source of variation in performance. Context isn't everything. Common technical characteristics have political effects on power relations, at all levels.
First, Claire set out what research findings from a DFID/ESID-funded study tell us about the political dynamics that have enabled progress in some cases. She explained that, despite significant limitations in the literature, progress in service delivery has been linked to:
- Crisis and transition: services become connected to nation-building
- The nature of the political settlement: ideological orientation and stability/continuity
- Political entrepreneurship: where particular constituencies are courted
- Embedded accountability: the degree to which accountability is locally grounded.
She then discussed how political dynamics differ by service, outlining findings from a DFID/ODI-funded study on the political effects of specific services' characteristics. She summarised these effects as follows:
- Politicians prefer to invest in goods that signal their contribution; they would rather support visible, targetable infrastructure (pipelines and connections) than quality and maintenance.
- Providers dominate where they are monopolies, where they have professional discretion and where service performance is hard to measure.
- Users' control is greater where the service is territorial, and is used frequently and predictably. The natural 'boundaries of consumption' around piped water, for example, may be an enabling factor in collective mobilization. Studies suggest citizens can more easily mobilize where there is a single point of consumption (e.g. a school).
Claire Mcloughlin is based at the University of Birmingham, where she is a senior researcher with DLP and with the Governance and Social Development Research Centre. She has published extensively on the politics of basic services and their effects on state-building.
See a summary of her recent article in the journal Governance: When does service delivery improve the legitimacy of a fragile state?