Making Politics Work for Development: Harnessing Transparency and Citizen Engagement

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This Policy Research Report was prepared by the Development Research Group of the World Bank by a team led by Stuti Khemani. The other authors of the report were Ernesto Dal Bó, Claudio Ferraz, Frederico Finan, Corinne Stephenson, Adesinaola Odugbemi, Dikshya Thapa, and Scott Abrahams.


Too often, government leaders fail to adopt and implement policies that they know are necessary for sustained economic development. Political constraints can prevent leaders from following sound technical advice, even when leaders have the best of intentions. Making Politics Work for Development: Harnessing Transparency and Citizen Engagement focuses on two forces—citizen engagement and transparency—that hold the key to solving government failures by shaping how political markets function.


" This book not only provides an authoritative statement of what we know about how to align political incentives with the interests of society, but it does so with an eye to making change happen even in the face of political opposition. The World Bank will never be the same again. "
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James Robinson

University Professor, Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago

In today’s participative world, citizens are not only queueing at voting booths, but are also taking to the streets and using modern communication technology to select, sanction, and pressure the leaders who wield power within government. This political engagement can function in highly nuanced ways even within the same formal institutional context and across the political spectrum, from autocracies to democracies. Political engagement becomes unhealthy when leaders are selected and sanctioned on the basis of their provision of private benefits rather than public goods, giving rise to a range of government failures.

The solutions to these failures lie in fostering healthy political engagement within any institutional context, and not in circumventing or suppressing it. Transparency—citizen access to publicly available information about the actions of those in government and the consequences of these actions—can play a crucial role by nourishing political engagement. The report distills policy lessons for governments, international development partners, and civil society on how best to target transparency initiatives so that the provision of public goods becomes the focus of political contestation.


" This pathbreaking report places politics at the heart of the development dialogue—exactly where it belongs. It provides constructive ideas for harnessing the forces of transparency and citizen engagement in ways that are suited to diverse institutional contexts so that reform leaders can overcome political constraints to their countries’ development goals. "
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Asli Demirgüç-Kunt

Director of Research, Development Research Group, The World Bank

Even so, unhealthy political engagement may persist. But to build institutions that are capable of tackling public goods problems, politics needs to be addressed and cannot be side-stepped. Targeted transparency is one way to move in the right direction: it complements everything else policy makers do and holds the potential to make politics work for development rather than against it.


" A lesson for us at the World Bank also comes out of this research. We can do more…to work with our clients to diminish political constraints to achieving development goals…To do this we have to overcome the fear of talking about politics, and confront it as part of the challenge of development. That is what we are doing through this report. "
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Kaushik Basu

Senior Vice President and Chief Economist, The World Bank



Lead author

Stuti Khemani

Senior Economist


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