Research Paper 6 - Bringing Agency Back In: Politics and Human Agency in Building Institutions and States

Research Paper 6

Adrian Leftwich, June 2009

In this paper, DLP’s first director reviewed the first phase of its work. 

DLP’s initial objectives were to undertake research and analysis, build knowledge and present evidence of the impact of leadership on development outcomes. Attempts to examine the role of leaders in in shaping institutions and state-building were to provide the basis from which short, medium and long term policy and operational implications could be derived for the international development community.

The paper summarises the three main categories of product produced during this initial phase:

  • Background papers and literature reviews;
  • Case study research papers
  • Analytical tools.

Key points:

Extensive consultation with leaders and key stakeholders had made it clear that a great deal more needed to be known about the forms, patterns and processes of leadership in different political and cultural contexts, rather than about the characteristics of individual leaders. 

In taking DLP’s research and thinking beyond this concern with individual leaders, focus was placed on some of the following issues: leadership as a process; the centrality of politics; the specificity of context; the role of elites and developmental coalitions; indigenous institutionalisation; international aid policy and its operational implications; and the importance of human agency in influencing structure.


About DLP

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

DLP focuses on the crucial role of home-grown leaderships and coalitions in forging legitimate political settlements and institutions that promote developmental outcomes, such as sustainable growth, political stability and inclusive social development.

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