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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 June 24, 2023
Biography
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.
Citations 433 Scopus

Publication Search Results

Now showing 1 - 10 of 11
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    The Projection of Development : Cinematic Representation as An(other) Source of Authoritative Knowledge?
    (World Bank, Washington, DC, 2013-06) 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 they are how most people in the global north (and elsewhere) encounter development issues. To this end, this paper presents three clusters of films on development: those 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 interventions (whether of a military, diplomatic or humanitarian nature) at a particular time and place. The authors 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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    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, 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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    On "Good" Politicians and "Bad" Policies : Social Cohesion, Institutions, and Growth
    (World Bank, Washington, DC, 2000-09) Ritzen, Jo ; Easterly, William ; Woolcock, Michael
    Social 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.
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    Local Conflict and Development Projects in Indonesia : Part of the Problem or Part of a Solution?
    (World Bank, Washington, DC, 2007-04) Barron, Patrick ; Diprose, Rachael ; Woolcock, Michael
    Drawing on an integrated mixed methods research design, the authors explore the dynamics of the development-conflict nexus in rural Indonesia, and the specific role of development projects in shaping the nature, extent, and trajectories of "everyday" conflicts. They find that projects that give inadequate attention to dispute resolution mechanisms in many cases stimulate local conflict, either through the injection of development resources themselves or less directly by exacerbating preexisting tensions in target communities. But projects that have explicit and accessible procedures for managing disputes arising from the development process are much less likely to lead to violent outcomes. The authors argue that such projects are more successful in addressing project-related conflicts because they establish direct procedures (such as forums, facilitators, and complaints mechanisms) for dealing with tensions as they arise. These direct mechanisms are less successful in addressing broader social tensions elicited by, or external to, the development process, though program mechanisms can ameliorate conflict indirectly through changing norms and networks of interaction.
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    Operationalizing the Science of Delivery Agenda to Enhance Development Results
    (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2015-10) Gonzalez Asis, Maria ; Woolcock, Michael
    The clear development gains achieved in recent decades should not deflect attention from the scale and type of challenges that remain. The strategies largely responsible for these initial gains have been technical reforms promoting economic growth and logistical systems supplying basic inputs. Today, strategies are needed that focus on enhancing the quality of implementation— for example, ensuring learning and not just building schools and enrolling students. This concern now spans numerous domains of professional practice (especially health) and has entered World Bank discussions framed as the “science of delivery.” At the World Bank, the Global Delivery Initiative (GDI) is an operational manifestation and extension of these ideas. To date, the GDI has prepared a number of different case studies across numerous sectors on ways in which innovative teams solve particular problems during project implementation. On the basis of the initial case studies, the authors outline five key principles of how high-quality implementation occurs and invite others to add to this growing storehouse of knowledge. Specifically, task teams are encouraged to develop “live” case studies by and for their staff, documenting how, in real time, implementation challenges are being met. Projects must “learn” more rapidly and systematically how to solve the myriad range of complex implementation challenges they inevitably encounter, since most of these (by definition) cannot be anticipated ex ante. Delivery challenges of this kind will only intensify in the coming years as citizens demand effective responses to ever-more complex—and contentious—policy domains, such as justice, regulation, and taxation.
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    Social Capital, Trust, and Well-being in the Evaluation of Wealth
    (World Bank, Washington, DC, 2016-06) Hamilton, Kirk ; Helliwell, John ; Woolcock, Michael
    This paper combines theory with data from different domains to provide an empirical analysis of the scale and variability of social capital as wealth. The analysis is used to argue, given what has been learned from the literature on social capital, that the welfare returns to investing in trust could be substantial. Using data from 132 nations covered by the Gallup World Poll, the paper presents a range of estimates of the wealth-equivalent values of social trust. Such values are usually not included in national or global accounts of income and wealth. In the light of the estimated importance of social trust as a component of wealth and well-being, the paper concludes with some policy options for how social trust might be better built and sustained.
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    Toward Successful Development Policies: Insights from Research in Development Economics
    (World Bank, Washington, DC, 2020-01) Artuc, Erhan ; Cull, Robert ; Dasgupta, Susmita ; Fattal, Roberto ; Filmer, Deon ; Gine, Xavier ; Jacoby, Hanan ; Jolliffe, Dean ; Kee, Hiau Looi ; Klapper, Leora ; Kraay, Aart ; Loayza, Norman ; Mckenzie, David ; Ozler, Berk ; Rao, Vijayendra ; Rijkers, Bob ; Schmukler, Sergio L. ; Toman, Michael ; Wagstaff, Adam ; Woolcock, Michael
    What major insights have emerged from development economics in the past decade, and how do they matter for the World Bank? This challenging question was recently posed by World Bank Group President David Malpass to the staff of the Development Research Group. This paper assembles a set of 13 short, nontechnical briefing notes prepared in response to this request, summarizing a selection of major insights in development economics in the past decade. The notes synthesize evidence from recent research on how policies should be designed, implemented, and evaluated, and provide illustrations of what works and what does not in selected policy areas.
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    Measuring What Matters: Principles for a Balanced Data Suite That Prioritizes Problem-Solving and Learning
    (World Bank, Washington, DC, 2022-05) Bridges, Kate ; Woolcock, Michael
    Responding effectively and with professional integrity to the many challenges of public administration requires recognizing that access to more and better quantitative data is necessary but insufficient. Overreliance on quantitative data comes with its own risks, of which public sector managers should be keenly aware. This paper focuses on four such risks. The first is that attaining easy-to-measure targets becomes a false standard of broader success. The second is that measurement becomes conflated with what management is and does. The third is that measurement inhibits a deeper understanding of the key policy problems and their constituent parts. The fourth is that political pressure to manipulate key indicators can lead, if undetected, to falsification and unwarranted claims or, if exposed, to jeopardizing the perceived integrity of many related (and otherwise worthy) measurement efforts. Left unattended, the cumulative concern is that these risks will inhibit rather than promote the core problem-solving and implementation capabilities of public sector organizations, an issue of high importance everywhere but especially in developing countries. The paper offers four cross-cutting principles for building an approach to the use of quantitative data—a “balanced data suite”—that strengthens problem-solving and learning in public administration: (1) identify and manage the organizational capacity and power relations that shape data management; (2) focus quantitative measures of success on those aspects which are close to the problem; (3) embrace a role for qualitative data, especially for those aspects that require in-depth, context-specific knowledge; and (4) protect space for judgment, discretion, and deliberation in those (many) decision-making domains that inherently cannot be quantified.
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    Examining Business Reform Committees: Findings from a New Global Dataset
    (World Bank, Washington, DC, 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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    Implementing Adaptive Approaches in Real World Scenarios: A Nigeria Case Study, with Lessons for Theory and Practice
    (World Bank, Washington, DC, 2019-06) Bridges, Kate ; Woolcock, Michael
    How does adaptive implementation work in practice? Drawing on extensive interviews and observations, this paper contrasts the ways in which an adaptive component of a major health care project was implemented in three program and three matched comparison states in Nigeria. The paper examines the bases on which claims and counterclaims about the effectiveness of these approaches were made by different actors, concluding that resolution requires any such claims to be grounded in a fit-for-purpose theory of change and evaluation strategy. The principles of adaptive development may be gaining broad acceptance, but a complex array of skills, expectations, political support, empirical measures, and administrative structures needs to be deftly integrated if demonstrably positive operational results are to be obtained, especially when undertaken within institutional systems, administrative logics, and political imperatives that are predisposed to serve rather different purposes.