Researching the politics of development



The political economy of measuring state capacity and governance: Mapping transnational approaches and their production


Given the immediate relevance for both the academic and the policy debate of the Post-2015 and Post-2030 development agendas, the project takes the state of governance and state capacity measurement as its starting point.
A collaboration with the European University Institute Global Governance Programme, the project aims to improve current understanding of governance and state capacity measurement, with particular reference to state effectiveness aspects that target assessment of the legal, bureaucratic and administrative capacity of states.
The project maps the political economy of governance and state capacity measures as an innovative contribution to research on state effectiveness and governance. It systematically analyses who rates state capacity and governance where, how and what for, and assesses the differences and performance of measures. Understanding this political economy adds to the setting of international standards and monitoring of governance goals, and supports the routinised production of high-quality, internationally comparable data.
This will strengthen the capacity of political actors to influence the development of more targeted state capacity and governance metrics and hence to focus resources in a most efficient way. The global governance debate will also be informed by empirical evidence on the politics of global governance through indicators providing empirical evidence for questions of scale.

Research question

The project is based on a set of three descriptive questions:

  • What is the overall geographical and governance-level distribution of state capacity and governance measures?
  • Who produces governance and state capacity measures, ranking and ratings, how and where? What is their distribution by producer type (donor, international finance institutions [IFIs], commercial sector, academia and NGOs) and funder type (governments, philanthropists, NGOs, private corporations)?
  • How do existing measures operationalise governance and state capacity?

From these three descriptive questions, a set of three testable guiding analytical questions follows:

  • Are there systematic differences in measures and their production processes according to different types of producers and funders, different regions, or governance levels?
  • Are there conceptual differences in the operationalisation of both ‘good’ governance and state capacity according to the type of producer, geographical distribution, governance level and production process?
  • How do measures from different producers, funders, geographical areas, governance level and production processes correlate with development outcomes?


Methods and design

The initial phase will involve:

  • Developing, collecting and consolidating the dataset.
  • Considering the most widely used measures of legal, bureaucratic and administrative capacity of states and governance (for example, all those combined in the World Governance Indicators and those listed in the Quality of Government dataset).
  • Identification of their five key dimensions:
  1.  type of organisation producing the measure: donor, IFIs, commercial sector, academia and NGOs;
  2.  type of funder: governments, philanthropists, NGOs, private corporations;
  3.  where the measure is produced;
  4.  at what governance level it is developed; and
  5.  how is the measure produced.

This will be followed by statistical and qualitative analyses:

  •  simple analysis of variance methods will provide stylised facts, largely unknown so far, on the geographical distribution and type of organisations producing state capacity measures and their funders;
  •  qualitative research on the operationalisation, purposes and aims of governance and state capacity measures;
  •  cross-national studies to reassess the preliminary causal weight of conventional claims about state capacity and development;
  • qualitative assessment of the operationalisation of governance and state capacity.


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

This research directly addresses the ESID core question: what capacities enable states to help deliver inclusive development?

Lead Project ResearcherAntonio SavoiaThe University of Manchester, UK
Project AssociateDavid HulmeThe University of Manchester, UK
Research AssociateDebora Valentina MalitoEuropean University Institute, Italy
Project AssociateGaby UmbachEuropean University Institute, Italy



Journal articles
M. Niaz Asadullah and Antonio Savoia (2018). ‘Poverty reduction during 1990–2013: Did millennium development goals adoption and state capacity matter?’  World Development 105: 70-82.
M. Niaz Asadullah and Antonio Savoia (2019). ‘Bangladesh is booming, but slide towards authoritarianism could burst the bubble‘. The Conversation, 28 February; reproduced on the ESID blog.
ESID working paper
M. Niaz Asadullah and Antonio Savoia (2017 ). ‘Poverty reduction during 1990-2013: Did Millennium Development Goals adoption and state capacity matter?‘. ESID Working Paper 93.