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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

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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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Intersubjective Meaning and Collective Action in ‘Fragile’ Societies : Theory, Evidence and Policy Implications

2011-06-01, 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. Though this is a general phenomenon, it is particularly salient in countries characterized by societal fragility and endemic conflict. 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.