Stuti Khemani is a Senior Economist in the Development Research Group of the World Bank. She joined through the Young Professionals Program after obtaining a PhD in Economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her area of research is the political economy of public policy choices, and institutional reforms for development. Her work is published in leading economics and political science journals, such as the American Economic Journal, Journal of Development Economics and American Political Science Review. She has studied the impact of electoral politics on fiscal policy and intergovernmental fiscal relations; drawn policy implications for the design of institutions to promote fiscal responsibility; and analyzed political constraints to efficient allocation of resources for health and education services. She is currently examining the role of mass media and local elections in building effective public sector institutions. She is also the lead author of the forthcoming Policy Research Report Making Politics Work for Development: Harnessing Transparency and Citizen Engagement. Her research and advisory work spans a diverse range of countries, including Benin, China, India, the Philippines, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda.
Synthesizing the vanguard of economics research on the functioning of political markets, this report distills implications for policy and future research. It shows how political engagement—the processes through which citizens select and sanction the leaders who wield power in government—is fundamental to understanding and solving government failures to pursue good public policies. The confluence of political engagement with transparency can be a driving force for countries to transition toward better-functioning public sector institutions, starting from their own initial and contextual conditions. But good outcomes are far from guaranteed, with many risks of unhealthy political engagement by citizens and repressive responses by leaders. To harness the potential of these forces, the report offers ideas for policy actors to target transparency to improve citizens’ ability to hold leaders accountable for the public goods needed for development.
A “meta” problem facing not only impact evaluation work but all development policy dialogue is perverse behavior in the public sector to not pursue evidence-based, technically sound policies. Politics and governance come between statistically significant research results and real impact in the world. We confront these problems in a policy research report that has been described as having transformational implications for the business of international development assistance.
Debate is needed over what is the nature of a public good; what is the role of the state and government in addressing market failures and persistent inequality, over and above volunteerism and charitable giving? Education and health for all children can serve as a crucial and tangible hook for that debate. A new research report on politics and governance, about which I’ve previously blogged, would suggest that citizens’ political engagement should center on this debate.