Researching the politics of development



Institutions, incentives and service provision: Bringing politics back in

Working paper 18

Download pdf

Brian Levy and Michael Walton


This paper outlines a conceptual framework for analysing the politics of service provisioning. The approach uses as its point of departure the ‘accountability framework’ of relations between citizens, clients and service providers, laid out in the World Bank’s 2004 World Development Report. That framework highlights two distinctive ways of governing public service provision – a performance-oriented top-down hierarchy with goals shaped by the overall political process; and participatory approaches which link clients and providers. But a focus on these two polar approaches deflects attention from the vast spaces in the middle: the many countries where governance falls well short of ‘good’, but is better than disastrous; and the many layers within a specific sector in-between the top-levels of policymaking and the service provision front line. A central hypothesis of this paper is that these in-between spaces are major domains of political, stakeholder and organisational behaviour. These are sources both of within-country and across-country variation in the quality of public service provision and also provide the locus where many opportunities for achieving gains in performance are to be found.