25 October 2011

Solutions when THE solution is the problem

Speaking of failure, KB sent Pritchett and Woolcock (2004) [PDF], which discusses how over-reliance on "perfect" bureaucrats may lead to intentional or accidental failure of international aid.

I would have cited this paper in my own work -- "Save the poor, shoot some bankers," which also discusses the principal-agent complications of relying on people who may lack skills and/or care in delivering aid. This paper is better. It distinguishes among technocratic policies, idiosyncratic practices and bureaucratic programs.

Applied to water, we can see how technocrats may set the price of water/service area boundaries and how office workers collect payments for water services but -- most important -- how managers have discretion over practices that are relevant (or IRRELEVANT) to local conditions. Their choices often determine the difference between success and failure.

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