Politics shape services; and services shape politics

19th June 2014

In governance circles, service delivery is often discussed as if it raised common issues across service sectors as diverse as health, education, water and sanitation. Yet within sectors, debates about governance issues are quite distinct. 
 
Is this just a matter of perspective or do different sectors really present different political problems and opportunities?
 
There are indeed common policy problems that run across services. For example, it is much more difficult to improve their quality than to extend access to them (by building schools, clinics, and water networks). Reviews of the political economy literature have found that services face common conditions for good performance. These include political commitment, good monitoring, effective sanctions, systems of local accountability, and strong political incentives to provide services.
 
But the profound diversity of issues between services is very striking.
 
In drinking water supply, for instance, a major policy concern is that badly directed subsidies lead to over-consumption by the least needy and to under-investment in water supply for the poorest. 
 
By contrast, it is difficult to mobilise policy-makers and providers to address sanitation at all, although it is well known to be the most important contributor to personal and public health. 
 
In health care, high cost treatments for some diseases are often prioritised while other diseases and more cost-effective measures are neglected. 
 
In most countries education is a policy priority. Yet the quality of much public education remains poor and potential learners continue to be excluded.
 
...services themselves shape actors' incentives, power and accountability
Together with Claire Mcloughlin at the University of Birmingham and colleagues at ODI, I have been involved in research on why services perform differently even in the same political and economic context. 
 
The outcome? That services themselves shape the incentives, power and accountability of the main actors, whether they be politicians, policy-makers, delivery organisations, or users. 
 
The idea that services themselves have a political character may seem far-fetched. But consider how a service such as hospital health care raises different issues of politics and accountability compared to urban water supply. Patients place themselves individually into the care of doctors and nurses, often knowing little about their treatment, and unlikely to feel empowered to dispute it. On the other hand, water-users have a good idea of what they should expect from the supplier; they share their daily experience of the service with other users, and can represent their opinions at a neighbourhood level. 
 
These differences are political in the sense that they affect relations of power between politicians, providers and users: patients are likely to feel less empowered than water-users. 
 
Our research has developed a framework for comparison by piecing together the available evidence on the political effects of what we describe as ‘service characteristics’ – that is, the features that can be used to distinguish between services. 
 
For example, services that are privately consumed (such as household water connections as against mains sewerage) will tend to enhance opportunities for political patronage. More visible aspects of services (such as the construction of clinics rather than staff training) are likely to attract greater political prioritisation. 
 
Monopoly (as in piped water supply), inequalities of information and professional discretion (as in health care) can all strengthen providers’ dominance over users. On the other hand, the frequent and predictable use of a service (like schools) operating in a limited territory gives communities the opportunity to organise and make demands. 
 
Such characteristics help to explain why some services for some people receive more attention. They also suggest possible policy responses and organisational reforms.
 
We put the service characteristics approach to the test...
We put the service characteristics approach to the test in a series of consultations with sector specialists in education, health, water and sanitation. The broad conclusion was that the approach could help specialists both to make sense of sectoral debates and to discover opportunities for learning between sectors. For example, ways of enabling community participation can be shared between strongly client-oriented services like health centres and schools.
 
Start by recognising the experience of practitioners in health, education, water and sanitation. Our final assessment suggests that doing it this way round can help lever political economy analysis out of its ‘governance silo’.
 
It will encourage dialogue between governance and sector specialists, helping them to understand why different services present quite different opportunities and constraints. 
 
And, by giving us a better-grounded diagnosis, it will also give us a fuller picture of the policy responses and organisational reforms that are likely to work in any particular service.
 

This guest post is an expanded version of the author's opinion piece for ODI (28 May 2014).

Image: Water, Ghana cc Arne Hoel / World Bank

0 Comments

Leave a comment

The views expressed in Opinions posts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of DLP, the Australian Government or DLP's partner organisations.

Documents

Author

Richard Batley

Richard Batley

Richard Batley is Emeritus Professor at the University of Birmingham’s International Development Department. His research focuses on state/non-state relations in service provision, and on the politics of public services in developing countries. He has researched particularly in Brazil, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Mozambique, and the UK.

Read more

Related items

Fragmentation of the Thinking and Working Politically agenda: Should we worry?

Many different paths, but all leading to similar destinations - and adding useful nuance to development thinking and practice.  

Opinion by Thomas Parks29th August 2016

Politics shape services; and services shape politics

How governance and sector specialists can help each other understand the politics of service delivery

Opinion by Richard Batley19th June 2014

Connections, contradictions and the political economy of attention

Thoughts on two sources of new and useful ideas about the deeper structures that might shape creativity.

Opinion by Chris Roche7th May 2015

From functional governance to sustainable peace: Making the space to reflect, learn and adapt

Learning how to balance the technically possible and politically feasible in volatile, conflict-affected contexts.

Opinion by Aditi Haté 22nd February 2017

Taking the Results agenda to the next level?

In The Politics of Evidence and Results in International Development, Chris Roche and his fellow editors examine how practitioners have navigated, resisted and used the ‘results agenda’ for more transformational ends.

Opinion by Chris Roche15th July 2015

The Medellin model: don't forget the political processes

Medellin's transformation has not just been a technical fix. The political changes behind social urbanism are an essential element of understanding what has happened in the city.

Opinion by Kate Maclean2nd November 2015

Inequality – the politics behind the policies

On the eve of the 2015 DLP Conference, Deputy Director David Hudson kicks off discussion on the conference theme - the politics of inequality.

Opinion by David Hudson11th February 2015

Overcoming premature evaluation

Sometimes failure is the first stop on the road to success for development programming. (Guest post in From Poverty to Power)

Opinion by Chris Roche15th November 2016

Politics, risk and development: three takeaways

Reflections from last week's Australasian Aid Conference and DLP’s 2016 Annual Conference, both hosted at Australian universities. 

Opinion by Chris Roche19th February 2016

What's in a name? Leadership as more than the 'big men' and 'big women' of history

A more nuanced understanding of good developmental leadership demands a shift away from the conventional focus on 'big' individuals.

Opinion by Heather Lyne de Ver11th February 2014

Politics - the problem and solution to poor services?

One of the most influential and enduring World Development Reports ever produced – Making Services Work for Poor People – is a decade old this year.

Opinion by Claire Mcloughlin13th March 2014

The politics of redistribution: we need you

Share your thoughts on episodes of redistribution that have helped redress inequality, and help us shape new research into the politics behind them. 

Opinion by David Hudson16th October 2014

It's all about inclusion, but how?

Shifting the focus of development intervention from form to the actual practice and distribution of power. (Guest post for the World Bank Governance for Development blog)

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal6th April 2016

Gender - the power relationship that Political Economy Analysis forgot?

While most development research is well on the way to embedding gender analysis, PEA - many donors' key analytical tool - largely ignores it.

 

Opinion by Evie Browne13th February 2014

Service delivery and state legitimacy: For better or for worse?

DLP research fellow Claire Mcloughlin challenges the widely held assumption that there is a self-reinforcing 'virtuous circle' between service delivery and state legitimacy. 

Opinion by Claire Mcloughlin24th November 2015

Different development: walk the talk

The argument for asset-based approaches to development programming and practice that value communities' capacity, skills and knowledge.

Opinion by Gillian Fletcher14th April 2015

International donors - aiding or abetting?

The importance of acknowledging the dilemmas donors may face when giving aid to developmental states.

Opinion by Niheer Dasandi10th September 2015

When the stars align to tackle inequality

Reflections on the 2015 DLP annual conference.

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal18th February 2015

Anti-corruption in Bolivia: fighting greed – or attitudes?

Social attitudes towards corruption may be shaped by beliefs and values, rather than facts.

Opinion by Nieves Zúñiga29th June 2015

Why are Africa's poor more likely than the rich to pay a bribe for public services?

The poor aren't simply 'easy targets' - they necessarily come into contact with corrupt state officials more often.

Opinion by Caryn Peiffer19th January 2017

Our money, our projects: Demand-driven community development

Emerging lessons from the Central Land Council’s community development program to strengthen Aboriginal people’s participation in mainstream Australia.

Opinion by David Ross15th April 2016

Somaliland's route to peace

Have donors overlooked the role played in development by secondary education? Reflections on new research on peacebuilding in Somaliland. 

Opinion by Sarah Phillips12th December 2013

Corruption: unpacking the black box of political will

New thinking on the reasons why individuals engage in corruption - including the pragmatic calculation that, right or wrong, corruption may be the only solution to pressing difficulties. 

Opinion by Heather Marquette12th January 2015

Oil reform in Nigeria: The ups and downs of channel-hopping programme delivery

How much do we really know about what 'thinking and working politically' can achieve – and where it might present dangers – in challenging political and sectoral contexts?

Opinion by Joanna Buckley27th July 2017

Political analysis as the practical art of the possible

Bringing politics back into PEA - a new paper with Adrian Leftwich

Opinion by David Hudson24th July 2014

Fiji's Roshika Deo - outlier, positive deviant or simply feisty feminist?

Priya Chattier will speak at DLP's 2016 Annual Conference. Her post here begins a short series on the conference theme of Power, politics and positive deviance.

Opinion by Priya Chattier 1st February 2016

Developmental leaders, 'dirty hands', and the dark side of collaboration

Should donors support developmental leaders who gain or keep power through questionable means? 

Opinion by Niheer Dasandi11th December 2013

Is developmental patrimonialism a dead end?

The key role of leadership succession rules and effective institutions in sustaining the success of high-growth autocracies.

Opinion by Tim Kelsall27th September 2016

Medellin - more than a miracle

Bad news sells. And for news editors looking for horror stories to recycle, Colombia's second largest city used to be a reliable source.

Opinion by Cheryl Stonehouse4th March 2014

Don't give up on government

Can the World Bank's flagship World Development Report inspire a good governance revolution that delivers development gains?

Opinion by Dan Hymowitz3rd February 2017

Parliamentary strengthening: the IDC report

Parliaments - and the political parties that populate them - are the institutions people trust least. Guest post for ODI's Shaping Policy for Development blog.

Opinion by Tam O'Neil9th February 2015

Security and justice – the mismatch between policy and practice

What hinders more politically nuanced security and justice programming?

Opinion by Shivit Bakrania21st July 2014

Gender and power: six links and one big opportunity

Donors have recently made great efforts to understand power in partner countries. Yet they have largely ignored one of the most pervasive power relations – gender.

Opinion by Diana Koester21st May 2015

Corruption? The developing world has bigger problems

More nuanced anti-corruption work should focus on results - and even put up with some corruption if things are working well. (Guest post for Prospect)

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal26th April 2016

Forgotten South Sudan tangled in factionalism and failed politics

A toxic blend of complex historical identity politics and short-term elite politicking

Opinion by Jonathan Fisher4th September 2014

Perceptions of women in politics in Fiji: how to accelerate change?

Women are widely seen as entirely capable of taking on political leadership in Fiji. Yet when asked to think about 'leaders', many automatically see men in the role.

Opinion by Rachel Fairhurst20th January 2015

Indonesia and the political settlements trap

When aspirations triggered by development and prosperity outstrip a political settlement's ability to deliver on those expectations, how easy is it to 're-settle' the settlement? 

Opinion by Graham Teskey17th July 2015

What do we do on Monday? Political settlements in theory and practice

Can donors, researchers, policymakers and practitioners all agree on what we mean when we talk about 'political settlements'?

Opinion by Edward Laws15th July 2015

Cancer and the links between medicine and development

DLP Senior Research Partner discusses what cancer has taught him about the links between medicine and development. Guest post for From Poverty to Power.

Opinion by Chris Roche15th April 2015

'Sticky’ change: What international development can learn from adaptive management

Promoting and sustaining individual behavioural change is as important as building flexibility into development programming.

Opinion by Greg Power2nd December 2016

Do anticorruption messages work? Findings so far and what they could mean for Papua New Guinea

How do anticorruption messages influence people’s views about corruption and about anticorruption efforts?

Opinion by Caryn Peiffer23rd March 2017

Using aid to strengthen Parliaments: fix the car, or worry about the driver?

Parliaments have always been treated as the poor cousins of democracy assistance efforts. (Guest post for From Poverty to Power)

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal24th November 2014

Inclusive political settlements: who and what gets included?

DLP hosted a day-long high level introductory workshop on political settlements in June. This post introduces a series that showcases the contributions of researchers, policymakers and practitioners.

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal13th July 2015

Ghana's democracy is driving great progress in health and education

We still don't know whether democracy drives development - or vice versa. Guest post for The Guardian

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal18th March 2015

Decentralisation and the potential for corruption in PNG

Guest post for Devpolicy on findings from a DLP-supported study on decentralisation and service provision.

Opinion by Grant Walton30th June 2017

More room for politics in the inequality debate?

Inequality, a hot topic since Pikettymania, and the theme of the DLP conference earlier this year, has resurfaced with a vengeance.

Opinion by David Hudson24th June 2015

Political settlements: people and the landscapes of power

The inescapable conundrum that politics involves actual politicians is one reason why the subject of political settlements generates so much debate.

Opinion by Alan Whaites24th July 2015

What's so 'African' about African leadership?

Does a focus on 'African' leadership obscure the rich and diverse nature of Africa's many states and get in the way of useful lessons from other parts of the world?

Opinion by Suda Perera1st April 2014

Welcome to DLP's blog

Welcome to DLP's new blog on politics, power, policy and developmental leadership

Opinion by Heather Marquette10th December 2013