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Woolcock, Michael

Development Research Group
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Social development, Research methods, Institutions, Poverty, Community Driven Development, Governance, Conflict
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Last updated: October 24, 2023
Biography
Michael Woolcock is Lead Social Scientist in the World Bank's Development Research Group, where he was worked since 1998. For sixteen of these years he has also been an Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. His research focuses on strategies for enhancing state capability for implementation, on crafting more effective interaction between informal and formal justice systems, and on using mixed methods to better understand the effectiveness of "complex" development interventions. In addition to more than 100 journal articles and book chapters, he is the co-author or co-editor of thirteen books, including Contesting Development: Participatory Projects and Local Conflict Dynamics in Indonesia (with Patrick Barron and Rachael Diprose; Yale University Press 2011 – a co-recipient of the 2012 best book prize by the American Sociological Association's section on international development), Building State Capability: Evidence, Analysis, Action (with Matt Andrews and Lant Pritchett; Oxford University Press 2017), and co-lead author (with Samuel Freije-Rodriquez) of the World Bank’s Poverty and Shared Prosperity Report 2020: Reversals of Fortune. He was the Von Hugel Visiting Fellow at the University of Cambridge (2002), a founding member of the Brooks World Poverty Institute (now the Global Development Institute) at the University of Manchester (2006-2009) and of the World Bank’s first Global Knowledge and Research Hub, in Malaysia (2015-2017). An Australian national, he completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Queensland, and has an MA and PhD in comparative-historical sociology from Brown University.
Citations 443 Scopus

Publication Search Results

Now showing 1 - 10 of 37
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The Varieties of Resource Experience : Natural Resource Export Structures and the Political Economy of Economic Growth

2005-09-28, Isham, Jonathan, Woolcock, Michael, Pritchett, Lant, Busby, Gwen

Many oil, mineral, and plantation crop-based economies experienced a substantial deceleration in growth following the commodity boom and bust of the 1970s and early 1980s. This article illustrates how countries dependent on point source natural resources (those extracted from a narrow geographic or economic base, such as oil and minerals) and plantation crops are predisposed to heightened economic and social divisions and weakened institutional capacity. This in turn impedes their ability to respond effectively to shocks, which previous studies have shown to be essential for sustaining rising levels of prosperity. Analysis of data on classifications of export structure, controlling for a wide array of other potential determinants of governance, shows that point source and coffee and cocoa exporting countries do relatively poorly across an array of governance indicators. These governance effects are not associated simply with being a natural resource exporter. Countries with natural resource exports that are diffuse relying primarily on livestock and agricultural produce from small family farms do not show the same strong effects and have had more robust growth recoveries.

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How and Why Does History Matter for Development Policy?

2011, Woolcock, Michael, Rao, Vijayendra

The consensus among scholars and policy-makers that 'institutions matter' for development has led inexorably to a conclusion that 'history matters', since institutions clearly form and evolve over time. Unfortunately, however, the next logical step has not yet been taken, which is to recognise that historians (and not only economic historians) might also have useful and distinctive insights to offer. This article endeavours to open and sustain a constructive dialogue between history--understood as both 'the past' and 'the discipline'--and development policy by (a) clarifying what the craft of historical scholarship entails, especially as it pertains to understanding causal mechanisms, contexts, and complex processes of institutional change; (b) providing examples of historical research that support, qualify, or challenge the most influential research (by economists and economic historians) in contemporary development policy; and (c) offering some general principles and specific implications that historians, on the basis of the distinctive content and method of their research, bring to development policy debates.

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Intersubjective Meaning and Collective Action in Developing Societies : Theory, Evidence and Policy Implications

2012-11-22, Gauri, Varun, Woolcock, Michael, Desai, Deval

The capacity to act collectively is not just a matter of groups sharing interests, incentives and values (or being sufficiently small), as standard economic theory predicts, but a prior and shared understanding of the constituent elements of problem(s) and possible solutions. From this standpoint, the failure to act collectively can stem at least in part from relevant groups failing to ascribe a common intersubjective meaning to situations, processes and events. We develop a conceptual account of intersubjective meanings, explain its relevance to development practice and research, and examine its implications for development work related to building the rule of law and managing common pool resources.

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Examining Business Reform Committees: Findings from a New Global Dataset

2023-06-24, Georgieva, Dorina, Eknath, Varun, Woolcock, Michael

Reform committees (also known as reform councils) are institutional mechanisms or structures tasked with holding policy discussions pertaining to (and making specific recommendations on) regulatory issues, to monitor improvement efforts and ensure regulatory coherence between agencies while enhancing regulatory quality. This paper presents novel granular data on business reform committees for 160 economies collected over 2020–22. The paper presents 35 questions and 238 variables grouped into three pillars: (i) mandate and scope, (ii) organizational structure and operational framework, and (iii) stakeholder engagement and communication. The dataset is unique in that it covers a large number of developing economies and presents detailed insights into the goals, structures, and components of reform committees while contributing to debates on strategies for promoting better regulations. Reform committees are heterogeneous structures, prevalent in lower-middle-income economies, followed by upper-middle-income economies. Most economies with a functioning reform committee state that their mandate is to improve competitiveness globally by improving the business regulatory/legislative framework, going beyond improvements of the business environment for domestic companies. In more than 50 percent of the economies the priorities are set at the ministry level, most commonly the Ministry of Finance or equivalent, followed by the Prime Minister’s office. However, reporting lines can be very different—across a quarter of the economies, the chair of the reform committee reports to the President or the head of state, while in close to one-fifth the chair reports to the Prime Minister. In most economies, public sector representatives are members of both the steering board and the working groups. These findings provide new insights into the scope, mandate, and functioning of business reform committees at different income levels and across different regions; they also provide a robust foundation on which subsequent research efforts can build.

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Using Mixed Methods in Monitoring and Evaluation : Experiences from International Development

2010-03-01, Bamberger, Michael, Rao, Vijayendra, Woolcock, Michael

This paper provides an overview of the various ways in which mixing qualitative and quantitative methods could add value to monitoring and evaluating development projects. In particular it examines how qualitative methods could address some of the limitations of randomized trials and other quantitative impact evaluation methods; it also explores the importance of examining "process" in addition to "impact", distinguishing design from implementation failures, and the value of mixed methods in the real-time monitoring of projects. It concludes by suggesting topics for future research -- including the use of mixed methods in constructing counterfactuals, and in conducting reasonable evaluations within severe time and budget constraints.

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The Projection of Development : Cinematic Representation as A(nother) Source of Authoritative Knowledge?

2012-12-07, Lewis, David, Rodgers, Dennis, Woolcock, Michael

Popular representations of development need to be taken seriously (though not uncritically) as sources of authoritative knowledge, not least because this is how most people in the global North (and elsewhere) ‘encounter’ development issues. To this end, and building on the broader agenda presented in a previous article exploring the usefulness of literary representations of development, we consider three different types of cinematic representations of development: films providing uniquely instructive insights, those unhelpfully eliding and simplifying complex processes, and those that, with the benefit of historical hindsight, usefully convey a sense of the prevailing assumptions that guided and interpreted the efficacy of development-related interventions at a particular time and place. We argue that the commercial and technical imperatives governing the production of contemporary films, and ‘popular’ films in particular, generate a highly variable capacity to ‘accurately’ render key issues in development, and thereby heighten their potential to both illuminate and obscure those issues.

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How (Not) to Fix Problems that Matter: Assessing and Responding to Malawi's History of Institutional Reform

2017-12, Bridges, Kate, Woolcock, Michael

Malawi can be understood as a microcosm of institutional reform approaches in developing countries more broadly. A common feature of such approaches, whether implemented by government or donors, is reform initiatives that yield institutions that "look like" those found in higher-performing countries but rarely acquire the same underlying functionality. This paper presents a retrospective analysis of previous institutional reform projects in Malawi, as well as interviews with Malawi-based development practitioners. The paper finds a plethora of interventions that, merely by virtue of appearing to be in conformity with "best practices" elsewhere, are deemed to be successful yet fail to fix underlying problems, sometimes in contradiction to internal and public narratives of positive progress. This unhappy arrangement endures because a multitude of imperatives, incentives, and norms appear to keep governments and donors from more closely examining why such intense, earnest, and long-standing efforts at reform have, to date, yielded so few successes. This paper seeks to promote a shift in approach to institutional reform, offering some practical recommendations for reform-minded managers, project teams, and political leaders in which the focus is placed on crafting solutions to problems that Malawians themselves nominate, prioritize, and enact.

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Social Sustainability in Development: Meeting the Challenges of the 21st Century

2023-03-15, Barron, Patrick, Cord, Louise, Cuesta, José, Espinoza, Sabina A., Larson, Greg, Woolcock, Michael

All development is about people: the transformative process to equip, link, and enable groups of people to drive change and create something new to benefit society. Development can promote societies where all people can thrive, but the change process can be complex, challenging, and socially contentious. Continued progress toward sustainable development is not guaranteed. The current overlapping crises of COVID-19, climate change, rising levels of conflict, and a global economic slowdown are inflaming long-standing challenges—exacerbating inequality and deep-rooted systemic inequities. Addressing these challenges will require social sustainability in addition to economic and environmental sustainability. Social Sustainability in Development: Meeting the Challenges of the 21st Century seeks to advance the concept of social sustainability and sharpen its analytical foundations. The book emphasizes social sustainability’s four key components: social cohesion, inclusion, resilience, and process legitimacy. It posits that •Social sustainability increases when more people feel part of the development process and believe that they and their descendants will benefit from it. •Communities and societies that are more socially sustainable are more willing and able to work together to overcome challenges, deliver public goods, and allocate scarce resources in ways perceived to be legitimate and fair so that all people may thrive over time. By identifying interventions that work to promote the components of social sustainability and highlighting the evidence of their links to key development outcomes, this book provides a foundation for using social sustainability to help address the many challenges of our time.

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How and Why Does History Matter for Development Policy?

2010-09-01, Woolcock, Michael, Rao, Vijayendra

The consensus among scholars and policymakers that "institutions matter" for development has led inexorably to a conclusion that "history matters," since institutions clearly form and evolve over time. Unfortunately, however, the next logical step has not yet been taken, which is to recognize that historians (and not only economic historians) might also have useful and distinctive insights to offer. This paper endeavors to open and sustain a constructive dialogue between history -- understood as both "the past" and "the discipline" -- and development policy by (a) clarifying what the craft of historical scholarship entails, especially as it pertains to understanding causal mechanisms, contexts, and complex processes of institutional change; (b) providing examples of historical research that support, qualify, or challenge the most influential research (by economists and economic historians) in contemporary development policy; and (c) offering some general principles and specific implications that historians, on the basis of the distinctive content and method of their research, bring to development policy debates.

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Social Exclusion and Mobility in Brazil

2008, Gacitúa Marió, Estanislao, Woolcock, Michael

This book examines issues related to reducing inequality in Brazil. As the volume's editors assert with authority, the current national political climate in Brazil provides an unprecedented space for discussing this topic. Among the several investigations that have looked at exclusion and social mobility in Brazil, very few have presented as much empirical evidence as the studies included in this volume. In addition to reviewing the pertinent literature, Social Exclusion and Mobility in Brazil examines the changing income dynamics among homogeneous groups over a 20-year period. The analysis points to factors-such as ethnicity, education, gender, occupation, and location-that affect the probability that a group will remain in the situation of poverty. The volume also examines Brazilians' perceptions of these circumstances and the cultural values that make coexistence possible given very high levels of inequality and low levels of mobility. It reveals that Brazilians expect the state-and only the state-to create mechanisms capable of transforming this situation. This volume presents a set of recommendations for discussion by citizens, academics, and policy makers. These topics include improving labor market equality and increasing access to assets; improving the social security system; supporting the formation of human capital, particularly among youth; reducing discrimination based on characteristics such as race and gender; and strengthening citizenship and participation.