Researching the politics of development



Mapping the elites of development: a cross-national dataset of policy-makers' educational and professional backgrounds


This project aims to generate valid and reliable data on the educational and professional background of key political and policy-making elites in developing countries.


The project looks at a selection of top ministers and senior civil servants in a cross-section of developing countries: first in a pilot sample of 12 cases (South Africa, Ghana, Uganda, Malawi, Rep. Congo, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Botswana, Gabon, Mauritania, and Senegal) and then across sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. For all individuals, we code their past professional experience and educational background, with a focus on their international experiences and linkages.

Research questions

A. What is the professional and educational background of key developmental elites?
B. What is the impact of professional and educational background on elite commitment?

  1. Does higher educational attainment significantly affect commitment to inclusive development?
  2. Does international experience significantly affect commitment to inclusive development?
  3. Does experience in the public, private or ‘intelligentsia’ sectors have a variable effect on commitment?


Methods and research design

This project begins with a pilot phase, aimed at developing and consolidating a coding handbook that can later be replicated in a larger dataset. For the 12 pilot countries, we identify the five key ministries involved in inclusive development, a list that includes core ministries like finance and planning, but also line ministries delivering key services like education, health, justice or agriculture. For each ministry we  identify the current minister and most senior civil servant (permanent secretary). This gives us a list of 10 individuals per country; 120 individuals for the pilot phase. We propose to collect the following variables:

  • Education: subject, level, whether in an international institution.
  • Professional background: public (politician or civil servant), private (business, non-business), intelligentsia (academia, media).
  • Professional background includes a variable on whether the professional background is international (multinational corporation, international organisation, foreign university or media) and, importantly, how long the member of the elite has been exposed to the international sector.

Upon completing the pilot phase we will review the challenges – if any – of collecting data on professional and educational background: should we find that there are no major issues of validity or reliability we will move onto the scale-up phase. During the scale-up we will expand the sample to the whole African continent (subject to data availability for conflict-prone countries), Central Asia, Latin America, South Asia and South-East Asia. While initially we would look at collecting cross-section data, the scale-up phase would consider creating some time series variation (possibly going back to decolonisation times).
As soon as cross-sectional data is collected for a large enough sample of cases, the project will commence conducting statistical analyses to determine the preliminary causal weight of conventional claims about elites and development.

How does this project fit within ESID’s research agenda?

This project falls under Programme 1 – Political settlement typologies.


Lead researcherAntonio SavoiaThe University of Manchester, UK
ResearcherPablo YanguasThe University of Manchester, UK