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.
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, 2010-01) Himelein, Kristen ; Menzies, Nicholas ; Woolcock, MichaelThough household surveys have long been an established part of development practice and regularly used to gather data on poverty incidence and the range of associated indicators, they have not yet become a common tool of justice reform practitioners. This guide aims to be a practical starting point for integrating justice work and household data collection, targeted both towards justice practitioners interested in survey design, as well as survey researchers interested in incorporating justice questions into their work. It provides guidance on designing a survey, suggested topics and questions, and ideas to facilitate a constructive engagement in discussions around justice in development practice. Household survey data can be beneficial to understanding justice questions as household surveys ordinarily cover a large, randomly selected cross-section of people - including the rich and poor, urban and rural dwellers - capturing a population's most common justice issues. Household survey questions commonly ask respondents about their most frequently experienced justice issues, issues when seeking redress, and knowledge and opinions of the law. Household surveys thus complement data collection techniques more familiar to justice practitioners (such as user surveys or sector assessments) that tend to focus on institutions of the justice sector and hence capture only the views of those who manage to access such institutions and privilege the perspectives of system incumbents. Household surveys have their limitations - not least significant cost, time and complexity implications. In addition, the standardized nature of surveys limits the type of information that can be gleaned and hence household surveys are generally most useful for gaining a picture of the "what" when it comes to justice issues, with complementary research methods often needed to properly understand the "why." Nevertheless, surveys can represent a useful starting point for engagement in a particular context, providing a snap shot of the justice landscape from which more detailed qualitative and quantitative studies can be undertaken.
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.
Publication(World Bank, Washington, DC, 2005-09) Jha, Saumitra ; Rao, Vijayendra ; Woolcock, MichaelThe authors use detailed ethnographic evidence to design and interpret a broad representative survey of 800 households in Delhi's slums, examining the processes by which residents gain access to formal government and develop their own informal modes of leadership. While ethnically homogeneous slums transplant rural institutions to the city, newer and ethnically diverse slums depend on informal leaders who gain their authority through political connections, education, and network entrepreneurship. Education and political affiliation are more important than seniority in determining a leader's influence. Informal leaders are accessible to all slum dwellers, but formal government figures are most accessed by the wealthy and the well-connected.
Publication(World Bank Group, Washington, DC, 2014-12) Mendoza Alcantara, Alejandra ; Woolcock, MichaelIncorporating qualitative methods into the evaluation of development programs has become increasingly popular in recent years, both for the distinctive insights such approaches can bring in their own right and because of their capacity to complement the strengths -- and where necessary correct some of the weaknesses -- of quantitative approaches. Some initial work deploying mixed methods has been undertaken in the assessment of investment climate reforms, but considerable room for expansion exists. This paper summarizes some of the key principles and practices underpinning mixed methods evaluations in development, highlight some notable examples of how such work has been conducted (and the particular contributions it has made), and offers some guidelines for those seeking to increase the sophistication and utility of qualitative methods in the evaluation of investment climate reforms.
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( 2010-03-01) Bamberger, Michael ; Rao, Vijayendra ; Woolcock, MichaelThis 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.