Political Economy & Governance 

Explore J-PAL's current and ongoing work in political economy & governance and the policy lessons that have emerged. 
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Good governance is often considered the foundation of economic development. Within the broad sphere of governance, J-PAL affiliates' research has explored the entire governance chain: From how to make politicians more accountable to citizens, to how to make government officials more effective at delivering services and executing policies without leakages or corruption.

J-PAL's Political Economy & Governance Program (PEG) aims to provide rigorous evidence on underlying economic theories of governance and identify how policy responses can improve governance outcomes in low-income countries. Governments around the world spend billions of dollars annually to provide basic services such as driver’s licenses and policing, and typically provide subsidized (or free) healthcare and education services to the poor. Further, international aid organizations often channel their development dollars through government-run programs. However, the effectiveness of such public spending is often compromised by a number of connected factors: technological constraints on implementing policies, the choice of policies that do not reflect the needs or wishes of the people, leakages due to corruption, lack of community participation, and poor oversight of public spending.  

PEG's research focuses on three key areas:

  • Understanding the determinants of citizen participation in the political process
  • The role of community participation and community ownership of shared resources in improving citizen control over policy
  • Understanding the impact of compensation and incentives schemes for bureaucrats, and innovative improvements in program design, on corruption and the efficiency of public services

Understanding the nature of citizen participation in politics and the influence of different political institutions that create policies and determine government priorities, as well the environmental factors that ensure that those policies are well implemented, is critical for improving service delivery in developing countries. Yet until recently, there was little quantitative evidence about the extent of leakage in service delivery and the nature of participation.

J-PAL's PEG Program seeks to encourage impact evaluations of programs designed to improve participation in the political and policy process, and reduce leakages in public programs through the Governance Initiative (GI). By providing targeted funding for rigorous evaluations of the most promising programs to improve governance, GI aims to provide guidance for organizations and governments in developing countries as well as the donors who provide support to these countries, so that policies can be driven by scientific evidence on what works (or does not work). Through dissemination of findings to policymakers and by providing support for the scale-up and replication of successful programs, GI will help translate this evidence into concrete policy change. More details about GI can be found here.

Policy Lessons

While increased community participation has been advocated as a way to improve the quality of public projects and services, evidence from randomized evaluations provides very mixed results about its effectiveness.