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The Limits of Institutional Reform in Development
Changing Rules for Realistic Solutions

$110.00 (C)

  • Date Published: February 2013
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781107016330
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$110.00 (C)

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About the Authors
  • This book explains why many institutional reforms in developing countries have limited success and suggests ways to overcome these limits. The author argues that reforms often fail to make governments better because they are introduced as signals to gain short-term support. These signals introduce unrealistic best practices that do not fit developing country contexts and are not considered relevant by implementing agents. The result is a set of new forms that do not function. However, there are realistic solutions emerging from institutional reforms in some developing countries. Lessons from these experiences suggest that reform limits, although challenging to adopt, can be overcome by focusing change on problem solving through an incremental process that involves multiple agents.

    • Interdisciplinary institutional theory is used to frame the discussion
    • Empirical evidence helps validate arguments and give readers real examples to consider
    • Andrews goes beyond common critiques, to provide practical ideas for improving reforms
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    Reviews & endorsements

    "[This] book is a must-read for anyone interested in international development. It is already shaping debates related to the post-2015 development agenda, and is bound to trigger important new scholarship on institutional change in international development and beyond."
    Prakash Kashwan, European Journal of Development Research

    "… this book deserves wide readership among those concerned with the improvement of public institutions in developing countries."
    Scott Wisor, Global Governance

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    Customer reviews


    This book should be read by all those involved in supporting or promoting good governance in the Global South. It not only demonstrates that the current approach by the donor community is failing, but suggests how a very different approach would lead to much better results. “The basic story line is that half of 145 countries that have had donor sponsored reforms in place saw declines in indicators of government effectiveness over a recent ten-year period” page 15. Why is it that after at least a quarter of a century of spending of billions of dollars and the participation of tens of thousands of consultants introducing ‘global best practices’ that so little has been achieved? At the macro-level, the problem is capital flight from the Global South to the industrial centres of the world. In terms of sub-Saharan Africa, a study by many NGOs last year demonstrated that the continent suffers a net loss of capital of almost $60 billion a year. This book concentrates on the micro-level and provides extensive evidence that the current approach of using expatriate consultants to introduce ‘best practices’ does not work even when assessed by the donors themselves, in their own terms. So for example, a study published in 2011 by the World Bank found that fewer “than 40 percent of the eighty countries receiving World Bank support for public sector reform between 2007 and 2009 registered improved CPIA governance scores in that period. A quarter of these countries actually saw such scores decline, whereas more than a third stayed the same” page 13. Development agencies are not facilitating development Due to the capital at their disposal and their gate-keeper role, in terms of both the tools and techniques to be used and the consultants employed, the donors are, “increasingly shaping the ideas, opportunities, demand, and supply of public sector institutional reforms in developing countries” page 7. Not only do, “generic models dominate the reform agenda of development agencies” but, in addition, these have “a strong neoliberal influence on reform content” page 7. First, the standard institutional reforms, “aim to foster market-friendly governments through interventions like privatization, deregulation, trade liberalization, and… [the promotion of] competitive markets” page 8. “Second, reforms aim to create disciplined governments” page 9. “Ninety percent of the forty sample countries took steps to discipline their public finances and civil service regimes and to streamline debt in the first four years of World Bank–sponsored institutional reform” page 9. Thirdly standard techniques or ‘best practices’ are common, for example, “fiscal rules, medium-term budgeting frameworks, and internal audit regimes” page 10. As a result, “market-friendly, disciplined, and modernized government… themes dominate more than 70 percent of World Bank-supported [administrative reform] projects” page 11. A new approach is needed Matt Andrews advocates a new approach that he terms Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation PDIA. This “calls for interventions that address context-specific problems through stepwise processes of purposive muddling by broad groups of mostly local agents” page 228. First we need to identify the specific problems that the institutions face. This needs a detailed understanding of the current environment and the key challenges, weaknesses and capabilities of the local institutions. In most cases this will involve a key role for local civil servants who have the intimate knowledge of their organisations, systems and processes that can only be gained by working within the organisations for several years. Consultants may have a role to play, but the local experts must lead and really own this process. Their views have to be respected and carefully listened to. But even when using local officials, “it is important to choose those who have not mastered the art of isomorphic mimicry and reforms as signals” page 231. The current reform approach supports a specific modernisation paradigm which in reality consists of neoliberal economic policies and New Public Management styles reforms which have had questionable success even in their home countries. Second reforms should build, on and not replace, current techniques, processes and expertise. Major reforms inevitably lead to reduced effectiveness and control, at least in the short-term. We need iterative reform addressing key, specific weaknesses in existing systems. “All manifestations of good, better, or best practice should be subjected to stringent tests” page 230. “It is extremely difficult to imagine change toward a PDIA-type approach in the presence of processes that incentivize actors to focus on large, pre-programmed, solution-based projects” page 230. This book is an important step in re-thinking the rules for institutional reform across the Global South. Another world is possible, but donors have to ensure that, based on a recognition that the current approach is not working, that they change the rules of the game. We need a paradigm shift from the easy introduction of standard ‘best practices’. We need to move to an approach that is based on iterative and incremental reforms, addressing key local challenges which are led by local officials who have not been seduced by the questionable benefits of the currently fashionable standard reform agenda and its neoliberal overtones.

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    Product details

    • Date Published: February 2013
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781107016330
    • length: 268 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 19 mm
    • weight: 0.57kg
    • contains: 12 b/w illus. 17 tables
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Change rules, change governments, and develop?
    2. Deconstructing the puzzling evidence of reform
    3. Overlooking the change context
    4. Reforms as overspecified and oversimplified solutions
    5. Limited engagement, limited change
    6. What you see is not what you get (expecting limits)
    7. Problem-driven learning sparks institutional change
    8. Finding and fitting solutions that work
    9. Broad engagement, broader (and deeper) change
    10. Reforming rules of the development game itself.

  • Author

    Matt Andrews, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
    Matt Andrews is a fellow at the Center for International Development at Harvard's Kennedy School and the Center for Global Development in Washington, DC. His numerous articles have appeared in journals such as Governance, the International Public Management Journal, the Public Administration Review, Oxford Development Studies, Public Administration and Development and the Journal of Development Studies. Prior to his fellowship at Harvard, Professor Andrews was a vice president of the International Consortium on Governmental Financial Management and supported various government leaders in South Africa during the transition from apartheid. He has worked in more than twenty-five developing and transitional countries as a permanent member of the World Bank and as a Harvard University academic doing research on development and government reform. Dr Andrews received his PhD from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University.

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