Researching the politics of development



Stanford workshop: Measuring State Quality

2 April 2014.
By Kunal Sen.
On 2-4 March 2014 the Stanford Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) Governance Project organised a workshop on “Measuring State Quality: In China and Beyond”.
The workshop was led by Francis Fukuyama and attracted a high profile group of participants. The attendees included qualitative and quantitative political scientists from the United States and continental Europe, Chinese scholars and US public administration officials. Some of them are already engaged with ESID’s work, such as Peter Evans – one of ESID’s advisory group members – and Matt Andrews from the Harvard Kennedy School; this meeting provided an opportunity to make new connections.
The objectives of the workshop were twofold:

  1. To try to reach some agreement on a set of quantitative measures of state administrative quality that go well beyond existing ones like the Worldwide Governance Indicators.
  2. To take the generic indicators agreed in the meeting, and ask to what extent and how they could be applied to one specific case, that of China.

The event brought together two groups of scholars and practitioners that do not usually interact: governance generalists, who have focused on generic issues of state reform and public administration, and China specialists who study the Chinese government and have developed some empirical measures of performance. This enabled valuable interactions and synergies.
The key debates centred on definitions of state quality and differences between country contexts. China is currently the country of focus for data collection, with the long term aim being to generate cross country data sets, also targeting the US.
ESID’s contribution to the workshop built on Savoia and Sen’s ESID Working Paper 10 on measurement and evolution of state capacity. The paper received very positive feedback, as did ESID’s Briefing 4 as a successful way of summarising and communicating the findings.
The paper by Savoia and Sen surveys the fast emerging literature on the determinants and effects of state capacity. it argues that existing measures on governance quality used in cross-national research can be usefully exploited to capture different aspects of state capacity, and shows that post the end of the Cold War, developing economies have experienced improvements in legal, administrative and bureaucratic capacity, but the gap with advanced economies is still wide.  The paper suggests that future research should address the short temporal coverage of available measures of state capacity, as well as provide a systematic quantitative assessment of the determinants of capacity and of its effects on development outcomes, such as health and education, which have not received sufficient scrutiny. This is one of the areas of research where ESID is currently working on.
ESID’s Briefing 4 makes the argument that state capacity should be an integral goal of the post-2015 development agenda. Without the ability of state agencies to provide high quality public provision of services, several development goals that will be included in the agenda will not be achieved in many developing countries. While there is certainly no ‘silver bullet’ for measuring such a multidimensional concept, the policy brief identifies a menu of plausible indicators for state capacity; for most of them data are already available or require simply expanding existing measures and filling the gaps, not the systematic design and collection of new data. Introducing the quality of public provision as a post-2015 goal or as a component of other goals would thus be cost-effective and build on pre-existing efforts by international organisations, national agencies, and research institutions worldwide.
For more information, read ESID publications:

Other links:

  • Stanford Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) Governance Project
  • Francis Fukuyama’s blog.