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 - 10 of 13
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, 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.
Taking the Rules of the Game Seriously : Mainstreaming Justice in Development - The World Bank's Justice for the Poor Program(World Bank, Washington, DC, 2009-11) Sage, Caroline ; Menzies, Nicholas ; Woolcock, MichaelThis paper explains the ideas and approaches that underpin the World Bank's Justice for the Poor (J4P) program. J4P is an approach to legal empowerment that focuses on mainstreaming sociolegal concerns into development processes, in sectors ranging from community-driven development and mining technical assistance to labor-rights advocacy and classic judicial reform. It has developed out of a perspective that legal and regulatory frameworks and related justice concerns cannot be conceived of in terms of a 'sector' or a specific set of institutions, but are integral to all development processes. Further, while there is broad agreement that justice reform and building an equitable justice sector is central to good governance and sustainable development, there is limited understanding of how equitable justice systems emerge and how such processes can be facilitated by external actors. J4P addresses these knowledge gaps with intensive research aimed at understanding the ways in which development processes shape and are shaped by local context, and in particular, how the poor engage with and/or are excluded from the multiple rule systems ('legal pluralism') governing their everyday lives. Through three case studies of the program's work, this paper illustrates how understanding the various roles of law in society provides an innovative means of analyzing and responding to particular development problems. The cases also demonstrate the principles that underpin J4P: development is inherently conflict-ridden; institutional reform should be seen as an iterative and thus 'interim' process; building local research capacity is critical to establishing an empirically based and context-driven reform process; integrating diverse sources of empirical evidence is needed to deeply engage in local contexts; and rule systems are ubiquitous in all areas of development, not just the 'legal sector.'
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, 2007-04) Barron, Patrick ; Diprose, Rachael ; Woolcock, MichaelDrawing 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.
Publication(Washington, DC: World Bank, 2005) Chirayath, Leila ; Sage, Caroline ; Woolcock, MichaelThe importance of building effective legal and regulatory systems has long been recognized by development professionals, yet there have been few programmatic initiatives that have translated empirical evidence and political intention into sustained policy success. Justice sector reforms have frequently been based on institutional transplants, wherein 'successful� legal codes (constitutions, contract law, etc.) and institutions (courts, legal services organizations, etc.) of developed countries have been imported almost verbatim into developing countries, without thought of the country�s social and cultural situation. Further, the fact that most developing countries have customary legal systems is often overlooked by development practitioners. Many governments, however, have tried to engage with customary systems in one way or another, with differing results. This paper brings customary systems into central focus in the ongoing debate about legal and regulatory reform. It analyses the ongoing challenges and critiques of customary legal systems and examines why, despite these challenges, engaging with such systems is crucial to successful reform processes. It examines the ways customary systems have developed in three African Countries?Tanzania, Rwanda and South Africa?and draws out some of the lessons of these experiences and the implications they have for policy reform initiatives.
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.
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.
Publication(Washington, DC: World Bank, 2015-10) Gonzalez Asis, Maria ; Woolcock, MichaelThe 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.