New article: A typology of interaction between politicians and bureaucrats

The political-bureaucratic interface in developing countries has rarely attracted the attention of researchers. A journal article co-authored by DLP Research Fellow Niheer Dasandi makes two key contributions to policymakers’ and scholars’ understanding of the impact that interaction between bureaucrats and politicians has on developmental reform.

In the early view article published online by the journal Public Administration and Development, Niheer, now Birmingham Fellow in Politics and Development at the University of Birmingham, and former UCL colleague Marc Esteve set out a systematic overview of the political–bureaucratic relationship in developing countries.

Their paper discusses how recent evidence from reform processes in poorer nations has increasingly highlighted the importance of interactions between politicians and bureaucrats. The analysis offers a typology of political–bureaucratic relations based on four models—collaborative, collusive, intrusive and integrated – and gives examples of each type. It builds on the work presented by Niheer in DLP’s State of the Art paper on the politics-bureaucracy interface published in 2014.

They also consider the main factors associated with these four models of political–bureaucratic relations: whether there is a high or low level of separation between the roles of politicians and bureaucrats in a given country; and whether bureaucrats have higher or lower levels of autonomy.

They ask how countries might move from one model to another. This is an important question, given that governance reforms promoted by donors in recent decades have often focused on attempts to transform the relationship between politicians and civil servants, and yet these efforts have frequently ended in failure.

When trying to understand how the relationship between politicians and bureaucrats in a developing country might change, they argue, it is necessary to look closely at specific aspects of that context. These might include how public servants win career progression, what values about the worth of public service are widely shared, or how far a bureaucracy reflects the interests, views, needs, goals, and values of the general public in the policy process.

It is hoped that these insights will prove to be practical and useful tools for those who need to accurately evaluate the nature of the relationship between politicians and bureaucrats in developing countries. This, in turn, can help shed more light on how successful reform might be designed and implemented. 

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The Developmental Leadership Program (DLP) is an international research initiative that explores how leadership, power and political processes drive or block successful development.

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