Under-provision of essential public goods is making development in Africa slower and more inequitable than it needs to be. A good part of this problem concerns the governance of provision at sub-national levels. This article provides a mid-term report on a multi-country research effort to shed light on the institutional sources of variation in local public goods provision. The particular focus is on key bottlenecks to improvement in maternal mortality, water and sanitation, facilitation of markets and enterprise, and public order and security. Drawing on fieldwork evidence and secondary literature, it identifies three clusters of issues and associated explanatory variables which seem to account for much of the variation in intermediate outcomes. They concern the extent of policy-driven incoherence in the institutional framework, the strength of corporate disciplines in provider organisations and the degree to which self-help is able to be ‘locally anchored’ in two particular senses.
IDS Bulletin (2011) 42 (2) 11-21 [DOI: 10.1111/j.1759-5436.2011.00207.x]