Development Research Group
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Social development, Research methods, Institutions, Poverty, Community Driven Development, Governance, Conflict
Development Research Group
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Last updated June 24, 2023
Michael Woolcock is the lead social scientist in the Development Research Group at the World Bank, where he has worked since 1998. For 14 of these years he has also taught (part-time) at Harvard Kennedy School, with periods of leave spent at the University of Cambridge (2002) and the University of Manchester (2007–09). In 2015-17 he also helped establish the World Bank’s first Knowledge and Research Hub, in Kuala Lumpur. His current research focuses on strategies for enhancing the effectiveness of policy implementation, extending work addressed in his recent book, Building State Capability: Evidence, Analysis, Action (with Matt Andrews and Lant Pritchett; Oxford University Press, 2017). Michael is a co-recipient of the American Sociological Association’s awards for best book (2012) and best article (2014) on economic development.
Publication Search Results
Now showing 1 - 8 of 8
The Varieties of Resource Experience : Natural Resource Export Structures and the Political Economy of Economic Growth(Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the World Bank, 2005-09-28) Isham, Jonathan ; Woolcock, Michael ; Pritchett, Lant ; Busby, GwenMany 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.
Publication(Washington, DC: World Bank, 2004) Grootaert, Grootaert ; Narayan, Deepa ; Nyhan Jones, Veronica ; Woolcock, MichaelThe idea of social capital has enjoyed a remarkable rise to prominence in both the theoretical and applied social science literature over the last decade. While lively debate has accompanied that journey, thereby helping to advance our thinking and to clarify areas of agreement and disagreement, much still remains to be done. One approach that we hope can help bring further advances for both scholars and practitioners is the provision of a set of empirical tools for measuring social capital. The purpose of this paper is to introduce such a tool-the Integrated Questionnaire for the Measurement of Social Capital (SC-IQ)-with a focus on applications in developing countries. The tool aims to generate quantitative data on various dimensions of social capital as part of a larger household survey (such as the Living Standards Measurement Survey or a household income/expenditure survey). Specifically, six dimensions are considered: groups and networks; trust and solidarity; collective action and cooperation; information and communication; social cohesion and inclusion; empowerment and political action. The paper addresses sampling and data collection issues for implementing the SC-IQ and provides guidance for the use and analysis of data. The tool has been pilot-tested in Albania and Nigeria and a review of lessons learned is presented.
Justice without the Rule of Law? The Challenge of Rights-Based Industrial Relations in Contemporary Cambodia(World Bank, Washington, DC, 2009-01) Adler, Daniel ; Woolcock, MichaelA significant proportion of the world's work is done in contexts where the rule of law is absent or severely lacking. This paper describes one such context, that of contemporary Cambodia. Based on a literature review and interviews with key informants the authors find that there are opportunities to embed labor markets in regulatory frameworks, even at the periphery of the global economy. In such contexts, however, it is suggested that orthodox models of legal and judicial reform, which focus on drafting better laws and building capacity in judicial and administrative institutions for their enforcement, may not be the most effective way forward. Rather, the Cambodian experience suggests that the following were crucial in moving towards better protection of workers' rights: understanding the limitations of law as an instrument for attainment of rights absent independent and accessible judicial institutions; confronting the barriers to the establishment of such institutions (and being open to alternative strategies); recalling that law can have a powerful normative force, even without direct enforcement; engaging with the way in which rights are attained through processes of social contest; and supporting institutional forums for such contests to be played out in ways which maximize the potential for the disadvantaged to take part and tap in to the legitimating power of the law.
Publication(World Bank, Washington, DC, 2000-09) Ritzen, Jo ; Easterly, William ; Woolcock, MichaelSocial cohesion - that is, the inclusiveness of a country's communities - is essential for generating the trust needed to implement reforms. Citizens have to trust that the short-term losses that inevitably arise from reform, will be more than offset by long-term gains. However, in countries divided along class and ethnic lines, and with weak institutions, even the boldest, most civic-minded and well-informed politician (or interest group) will face severe constraints in bringing about policy reform. The authors hypothesize that key development outcomes (particularly economic growth) are most likely to be associated with countries that are both socially cohesive and governed by effective public institutions. They test this hypothesis for the sample of countries with available data. The authors develop a conceptual framework based on the idea of social cohesion, then review the evidence on which it is based. While several earlier studies have shown that differences in growth rates among developing countries are a result of weak rule of law, lack of democracy, and other institutional deficiencies, the authors focus on the social conditions that give rise to these deficiencies. They also seek to establish empirically a causal sequence from social divisions to weak institutions to slow growth. The essence of their argument, supported by new econometric evidence, is that pro-development policies are comparatively rare in the developing world less because of the moral fiber of politicians (though that surely matters) than because good politicians typically lack the room for maneuver needed to make desired reforms. This lack of maneuverability is a product of insufficient social cohesion and weak institutions. The authors also explore the determinants of social cohesion, focusing on historical accidents, initial conditions, and natural resource endowments. Social cohesion should not be seen as a concern primarily of developing and transition economies. Indeed, it is important in the United Kingdom as in Ukraine, in Canada as in Colombia, in the Netherlands as in Australia.
Empowerment and Local Level Conflict Mediation in Indonesia : A Comparative Analysis of Concepts, Measures, and Project Efficacy( 2005-09) Gibson, Christopher ; Woolcock, MichaelThe notion of empowerment has been more often deductively claimed than carefully defined or inductively assessed by development scholars and practitioners alike. The authors define and assess empowerment through an in-depth examination of the extent to which a large community development project in rural Indonesia empowers participants (especially members of marginalized groups) through building their capacity to manage local conflict. Although the project induces conflict through its deployment of a competitive bidding process, the authors argue that, when well implemented, it can also enable otherwise unequal groups to more peacefully, equitably, and effectively engage one another. Using a mixed methods approach, they compare cases from otherwise similar treatment and control villages to shed light on the chief components of villagers' capacity to manage local conflict. They discuss the interdependencies of two major analytical realms-routines of inter-group collaboration, and sources of countervailing power-and their relation to local conflict processes and outcomes.
Publication(World Bank, Washington, DC, 2014-06) Woolcock, MichaelWhether in the domains of scholarship or practice, important advances have been made in recent years in our understanding of how culture, politics, and development interact. Today s leading theorists of culture and development represent a fourth distinctive perspective vis-à-vis their predecessors, one that seeks to provide an empirically grounded, mechanisms-based account of how symbols, frames, identities, and narratives are deployed as part of a broader repertoire of cultural "tools" connecting structure and agency. A central virtue of this approach is less the broad policy prescriptions to which it gives rise -- indeed, to offer such prescriptions would be something of a contradiction in terms -- than the emphasis it places on making intensive and extensive commitments to engaging with the idiosyncrasies of local contexts. Deep knowledge of contextual realities can contribute constructively to development policy by enabling careful intra-country comparisons to be made of the conditions under which variable responses to otherwise similar problems emerge. Such knowledge is also important for discerning the generalizability (or "external validity") of claims regarding the efficacy of development interventions, especially those overtly engaging with social, legal, and political issues.
Intersubjective Meaning and Collective Action in ‘Fragile’ Societies : Theory, Evidence and Policy Implications( 2011-06-01) Gauri, Varun ; Woolcock, Michael ; Desai, DevalThe 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.
Publication(World Bank, Washington, DC, 2008-04) Adler, Daniel ; Porter, Doug ; Woolcock, MichaelInstitutional reforms in contemporary Cambodia are being undertaken in an environment characterized by pervasive legal pluralism the not uncommon situation in which numerous, contradictory and competing sets of rules and norms regulate social, economic and political relationships. The international development community has a long and unhappy history of engagement with such environments. This is not simply because the links between substantive policy and institutional arrangements in the 'transition to democracy' are many, uncertain and highly contingent. It is also the case because the formal precepts of liberal democracy as codified in new laws and regulations are often inconsistent with prevailing social norms and administrative practices. In fact, they may be fundamentally at odds with the interests of economic and political elites who have an interest in contesting, neutralizing or capturing institutions created under the new legal framework.