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Global Development Institute

Investigating 'pockets of effectiveness' in developing countries: a new route to building state capacity for development

A major challenge for achieving poverty reduction is that the capacity of states to deliver development is in short supply, particularly in Africa.

However, 'pockets of effectiveness' (PoEs) offer important clues concerning how developmental forms of state capacity might emerge and be sustained in difficult contexts. PoEs are public organisations that function effectively where this is not the norm, with history suggesting that they have proved critical to developmental state success in the global south.

Recent research on PoEs has suggested that both external (e.g. political context) and internal factors (e.g. organisational leadership) shape their performance. However, this emerging subfield of governance research lacks a comparative study which systematically identifies how PoEs emerge and are sustained in different contexts and sectors, and the role that domestic and international actors can play in this. This absence has ruled out developing a theory of change concerning how PoEs emerge and are sustained and the generation of policy recommendations beyond specific cases.

This project is being led by Professor Sam Hickey, The University of Manchester in collaboration with Professor Giles Mohan of The Open University. It is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. 

Project objectives

The key objectives of this project are to:

  1. Undertake a comparative analysis of the institutional and political conditions through which PoEs emerge and are sustained in different contexts and within different sectors
  2. Identify the role that domestic and international actors play in developing and sustaining PoEs
  3. Directly inform and improve efforts by governments and development agencies to support PoEs in Africa, and developmental governance more broadly
  4. Strengthen the capacity of early-career African researchers to undertake governance research and policy engagement.