APPP, a consortium research programme led by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), and funded in 2007-2012 by DFID and Irish Aid, focused research on one overarching question: which institutional patterns and governance arrangements seem to work relatively well and which work relatively badly in providing public goods, merit goods and other intermediate conditions for successful development? In this report, the results of enquiries in seven streams and in a range of countries are brought together with an overarching argument about what these and other research findings mean for current thinking and practice on the improvement of governance in Africa. Based on research by APPP and others, it is argued that not all of the reforms customarily offered as examples of ‘good fit’ make a clean break with conventional thinking on good governance. In fact, it is suggested, most current understandings of this agenda have not gone far enough. They have, as it were, paused en route at a dilapidated half-way house, from which they need to be evicted before they settle in for good. This half-way house has a technical name; it is called the principal-agent approach to public management reform. The road ahead, on the other hand, involves the identification and solution of collective action problems.
The report appeals for more recognition of the coordination challenges and collective action problems that prevent both governments and groups of citizens from acting consistently as ‘principals’ in dynamic development processes. Domestic reformers and external actors alike have something useful to contribute to improving governance in Africa, but only if they appreciate better the nature of the challenge.
Booth, D. Development as a collective action problem: addressing the real challenges of African governance. Africa Power and Politics Programme (APPP), London, UK (2012) 132 pp.