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World Development Report 2017. Governance and the Law

Why are carefully designed, sensible policies too often not adopted or implemented? When they are, why do they often fail to generate development outcomes such as security, growth, and equity? And why do some bad policies endure?

This World Development Report 2017: Governance and the Law addresses these fundamental questions, which are at the heart of development. Policy making and policy implementation do not occur in a vacuum. Rather, they take place in complex political and social settings, in which individuals and groups with unequal power interact within changing rules as they pursue conflicting interests. The process of these interactions is what this Report calls governance, and the space in which these interactions take place, the policy arena. The capacity of actors to commit and their willingness to cooperate and coordinate to achieve socially desirable goals are what matter for effectiveness.

However, who bargains, who is excluded, and what barriers block entry to the policy arena determine the selection and implementation of policies and, consequently, their impact on development outcomes. Exclusion, capture, and clientelism are manifestations of power asymmetries that lead to failures to achieve security, growth, and equity. The distribution of power in society is partly determined by history. Yet, there is room for positive change.

This Report reveals that governance can mitigate, even overcome, power asymmetries to bring about more effective policy interventions that achieve sustainable improvements in security, growth, and equity. This happens by shifting the incentives of those with power, reshaping their preferences in favor of good outcomes, and taking into account the interests of previously excluded participants. These changes can come about through bargains among elites and greater citizen engagement, as well as by international actors supporting rules that strengthen coalitions for reform.

Main Messages

Ineffective policies can persist, while potentially effective policies are often not adopted. The World Development Report 2017: Governance and the Law explores why some policies fail to achieve desired outcomes and what makes other policies work. The main messages of the WDR 2017 are:

  • Successful reforms are not just about “best practice.” To be effective, policies must guarantee credible commitment, support coordination, and promote cooperation.
  • Power asymmetries can undermine policy effectiveness. The unequal distribution of power in the policy arena can lead to exclusion, capture, and clientelism.
  • Change is possible. Elites, citizens, and international actors can promote change by shifting incentives, reshaping preferences and beliefs, and enhancing the contestability of the decision making process.
  • Three guiding principles for rethinking governance for development are:
    1. Think not only about the form of institutions, but also about their functions.
    2. Think not only about capacity building, but also about power asymmetries.
    3. Think not only about the rule of law, but also about the role of law.

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In Depth



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Part I: Rethinking governance for development: A conceptual framework                               


Chapter 1: Governance for development: The challenges

Chapter 2: Enhancing governance for development: Why policies fail

Spotlight 1: Corruption

Spotlight 2: The governance challenges of managing risks

Chapter 3: The role of law

Spotlight 3: How do effective and equitable legal institutions emerg




Part II: Governance for development                                                                                                    


Chapter 4: Governance for security

Spotlight 4: Wartime governance

Spotlight 5: Crime

Chapter 5: Governance for growth

Spotlight 6: The middle-income trap

Spotlight 7: Public-private partnerships

Chapter 6: Governance for equity

Spotlight 8: Service delivery: Education and health




Part III: Drivers of change                                                                                                                     


Chapter 7: Elite bargaining and adaptation

Spotlight 9: Decentralization

Spotlight 10: Public service reform

Chapter 8: Citizens as agents of change

Spotlight 11: From transparency to accountability through citizen engagement

Spotlight 12: The media

Chapter 9: Governance in an interconnected world

Spotlight 13: Illicit financial flows