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The knowledge systems implications of

building institution for high-quality growth (*)

Andrs Rius
IDRC
Avda. Brasil 2655
11300 Montevideo
Uruguay
arius@idrc.org.uy

March, 2003
First crude draft; comments welcome

(*)

This paper was possible thanks to an IDRC internal Writing Award and the generous support of the
Center for International Development, Harvard University, which provided a hospitable and stimulating
environment for research and reflection. The views expressed in the paper are those of the author and do
not necessarily reflect those of IDRC.

Introduction

The notion that developing countries need to generate their own, knowledge-based
solutions to their development challenges has become conventional wisdom in the international
development community and in research circles in the developing world. Those solutions, is
increasingly assumed, involve a process of institutional reform and even institution building, or
the putting in place of certain social technologies to promote high-quality growth.1 The
recognition of the value of research-based knowledge in those efforts has led to various
initiatives aimed at establishing and/or strengthening local knowledge systems for development,
and particularly political, economic and social knowledge systems (PESKS).2 There may be
less agreement on where to start or how to proceed, but most key players agree that creating a
minimum critical mass of capacity to produce policy-relevant research is an important step in
promoting socio-economic progress. This convergence of views may have been provoked by
simultaneous changes in the international economic environment, developing countries political
environments and predominant policy stances, and international organizations conceptions
about development (Ndulu, 1997).
The emerging consensus usually assumes that the technically stronger the research
output from local PESKS, and the better it is communicated to policy makers, the greater the
1

Rodrik (2000) implicitly defines high-quality growth as involving more predictable long-run growth
rates, greater short-term stability, greater ability to cope with adverse shocks, and better distributional
outcomes than, say, low-quality growth (see Rodrik, 2000). The arguments below would be essentially
unaffected by the replacement of such expression with sustainable human development, or simply
development. While these latter expressions are rightly more encompassing and come closer to an
ethically defensible goal for national and international policies, they frequently resonate as too vague
(development) or associated with specific international organizations and their approaches (human
development, with the work of the UNDP). An added advantage of high-quality growth is that it
implicitly points to fields, such as a macroeconomic stabilization policy, that are frequently construed to be
more technical and therefore excluded from the kind of analysis that is advocated below.
2
Political, economic and social knowledge systems, or PESKS for short, are here defined to comprise the
constellation of sites where political, economic and social analysis is produced and used. Main actors in
PESKS are social science researchers (broadly defined to include a variety of development experts, policy
analysts, etc., as well as social scientists more narrowly defined), and the institutions and communities that
are actively engaged in the funding, commissioning, and use of social research for policy-making.

chances of it being reflected in policies and the higher the quality (effectiveness, efficiency) of the
resulting policies. This is taken to require the upgrading of the technical skills of research
communities in developing countries, and their organization more or less after the model of
social sciences research systems in the developed world. A pervasive communications gap is
also frequently noted to separate researchers from policy makers and, as a response, the
initiatives to strengthen developing countries PESKS also involve specific activities and
mechanisms aimed at bridging the gap and ensuring that research results reach those with
access to the power that may translate them into policies. Efficiency considerations, and
awareness of the opportunities created by rapidly evolving information and communication
technologies, frequently lead to complementary investments in building international networks
that would allow local researchers to harness the knowledge available in the global
marketplace of ideas.
While some influential players have embraced these strategies and principles more
recently (Wolfensohn, 1996; Johnson and Stone, 2000), some developed countries agencies
and foundations have been investing in building research capacities for development in the global
South for many years (Rathgeber, 2001) (DUTCH, DFID). The results of those investments
could be said to have been at least mixed, if assessed on the basis of the capacities available
today in many countries or regions that have received very significant investments (Harrison and
Neufeld, 2002) ( WDR1998; Dottridge, PPG; Fukuda-Parr), and definitely meager if the
criterion to assess them were the quality of policies regularly adopted in those countries not to
mention the development outcomes that they were ultimately meant to bring about. Valuable as
the wider-ranging new consensus certainly is, this paper argues that its full potential may fail to
be realized unless the actors involved come to grips with lessons that have been learned in three
apparently unconnected but directly relevant streams of scholarship. Those lessons are wellestablished in some of the respective fields, or beginning to sink in others. When taken together,
they make evident the need to re-think research capacity building quite radically.3 In fields like
3

Fukuda-Parr, Lopes and Malik (2002) similarly argue for a radical re-thinking of capacity building, by
which they mean primarily technical assistance. Our focus of analysis is not technical assistance per se but
the creation and consolidation of local PESKS in developing countries, and our attention to selected
segments of the sciences studies and policy studies literatures lead us to some similar but also some new

global environmental policy, where the research expected to influence policy has a larger
component of the hard, natural sciences, those lessons seem to have been already taken up
and are being acted upon. However, the efforts aimed at strengthening PESKS in developing
countries still seem too much influenced by outmoded paradigms of knowledge systems
organization.
The first of those stream of scholarship that must be confronted is on institutions that
promote high-quality growth. Those institutions have been assimilated to social technologies
for development, but recent empirical and analytical work has challenged the notion that those
technologies are standard, general purpose, codified, and readily available in the global
marketplace of ideas, as well as the assumption that the required institutional reforms can
proceed in a piecemeal fashion, independently of pre-existing arrangements, or innocent of pace
or sequence. Instead, an emerging research program has proposed the view that there are
certain economic principles that must be respected by a system of institutions, if it is to produce
sustained high-quality growth, but that there is not unique mapping of those principles into
specific institutional configurations. Moreover, the same literature has highlighted the key role of
democratic political institutions in discovering, and continuously upgrading, the institutional
configurations that best suit each societys circumstances.
A second significant body of empirical and analytical research has shown that
democratic political systems cannot be assumed to operate as optimizing entities, and that their
behavior is better understood as adaptive or boundedly rational. The performance of adaptive
political systems may be enhanced in relatively precise termsby greater doses of technically
rigorous knowledge, but no amount of knowledge will ever allow them to become optimizing
mechanisms. This may be more of a bless than a curse, as will be argued later, and it is certainly
better than possible alternative of enlightened autocracy. More importantly, the specific types of
knowledge that best help democratic systems improve their performance are not necessarily
those that suit an optimizing decision-maker.

conclusions. Stiglitz (2000) is very close in spirit but much less detailed in many of the specific areas in
which this paper ventures.

Third, the emerging thinking on building PESKS in developing countries has been too
slow to take up the lessons from recent social studies of science and technology. Within these
disciplines there is a growing consensus that knowledge generation and its utilization increasingly
interact in more complicated ways, in a number of interconnected settings, in the most successful
innovation systems. The picture of the research world drawn by this literature is forcing
redefinitions of the notions of basic and applied research, of the relations among academic
disciplines, of the organization of knowledge industries, and of the quality standards that are
appropriate for the new environment. The implications are as relevant for social scientific
knowledge as they are for the natural sciences and their associated hard technologies, and
they affect the ways in which research agendas should be determined, research results should be
validated, and innovation can be expected to occur. The implications for building prodevelopment PESKS are still less precisely specified, to some extent because the knowledge
generated in those systems is meant to inform intricate political processes of institutional change.
The purpose of this paper is to bring those three strands of analysis together, to shed
light on the efforts directed at establishing PESKS that support the acquisition of institutions for
high-quality growth. Its primary audience are, therefore, researchers, research managers and
policy makers in developing countries, as well as the constellation of international and bilateral
institutions mandated to support capacity building around research for development. It is shown
that, under the new light, efforts aimed at building pro-development PESKS will require of those
key actors to adjust their strategies with respect to the strategies entailed by the current
conventional wisdom. At a relatively high level of abstraction, the innovative recommendations
emerging from the proposed conceptual framework can be summarized in two key points.
First, domestic and international efforts to build local PESKS in developing countries
should be guided by the utmost priority of contributing to the consolidation of democracies (i.e.,
regimes that at least have a minimal set of attributes to ensure participatory decision-making,
such as free and competitive elections, freedom of political expression and organization, a broad
franchise, and effective exercise of power by elected officials).4 In the context of this article, this

See, e.g., Mainwaring, Brinks, and Prez-Lin (2001).

plea is not a moral one but an effectiveness argument derived from the analysis of the role of
institutions in fostering high-quality growth, and of the processes by which societies learn and
innovate to improve socio-economic performance.5 Among various concrete implications, the
effectiveness argument entails, for example, that donors should be less concerned with
maximizing the policy influence of the research they fund than with making sure it fosters
evidence-based, inclusive policy dialogue. Promoting the rule of law, transparency and the
consolidation of accountability mechanisms, should similarly feature more prominently among
donors priorities than supporting research to guide countries in the adoption of a correct set
of social or economic policies.6
Second, the alternative approach derived from the ensuing analysis shares with the
conventional wisdom the hopes in the Enlightenment ideal of science assisting in the management
of social affairs, but demonstrates that effectiveness in furthering the role of science requires
giving more voice in the knowledge generation process to the lay participants of the policymaking process. In this case, this is not a plea for the lay public to take control of science and
start to determine its methods, but a recognition that policy-effective science is no longer only
reliable knowledge but must be socially robust knowledge (Gibbons, 1999). When taken to
heart, such recognition has non-trivial implications. For example, the center of gravity of efforts
to strengthen pro-development PESKS may shift from research networks local or
internationalto multi-stakeholder, problem-oriented networks. This may require to give
research users more leverage by, for example, expecting them to be actively engaged in
problem formulation. International organizations may find these processes harder to manage,
and certainly they will be much more political, but it will seem as the only sensible way to go
5

This is not to question the merit of moral arguments for democracy. To the contrary, the author believes
that such arguments are legitimate and powerful, but realizes that they may not be persuasive enough with
those who worry greatly about the dire life conditions experienced by millions of people who dwell in
countries that meet the criteria to be considered democratic. Thus the imp ortance of effectiveness
arguments such as those espoused here. For a similar albeit more philosophical argument, on the fortunate
intersection of ethics and effectiveness, see Unger (1998).
6
As will be argued, these apply more directly to bilateral or multilateral (concessional) operations aimed at
strengthening analytical and technical capacities in developing countries, than to the international financial
institutions regular lending activity. Nothing in the arguments presented below suggests that lenders
should ignore the social or economic policies being implemented by countries that apply for loans (although

after acknowledging the recent lessons about the institutions required and about how institutional
innovations occur.
The rest of the paper is organized in three main sections. First, some implicit and explicit
assumptions of the new conventional wisdom on research for development and capacity building
are briefly spelled out and illustrated with examples from recent international initiatives. Second,
the main contributions from the three key literatures are summarized. Finally, the way they jointly
determine a new view of research capacity building and its normative implications are identified.

Conventional wisdom and practice: key features from selected examples

As usual with conventional wisdoms, much of their contents is tacit and their holders
form a significant but imprecisely delimited group. This usually puts any attempt at summarizing
their tenets at risk of constructing straw men that do not seem to represent anybodys thought.
This section is intended to mitigate that risk by forming, from some concrete examples of
ongoing initiatives, a more detailed characterization of existing conventional wisdom on PESKS
in development. The reference to concrete initiatives and institutions is meant to give a sense of
the significance of certain approaches in the development scene, but it is not intended as a
criticism of efforts and organizations that are generally multifaceted and evolving, and that
typically accommodate a range of views on their own objectives and chosen strategies. In any
case, the primary use of this characterization of conventional wisdom is to become a reference
point for a series of propositions that should be internally consistent and merit consideration in
their own right.
Several elements of the conventional wisdom can be illustrated by examining the
objectives, modes of operation, and some of the typical activities of the Global Development

the political legitimacy of the applicant government should probably weight more heavily, as well, in the
broader set of IFIs considerations).

Network (GDN).7 GDN originated in the late 1990s, amidst the efforts of the World Bank to
become a knowledge bank and promote greater ownership in the setting of development
policies and strategies (Johnson and Stone, 2000). The networks objectives, as well as its
membership, governance and products, have been evolving since the inaugural conference in
Bonn, in 1999. In those days, the networks goal was formulated as to build the capacity in
developing countries to undertake socio-economic research that informs and influences policy
(Squire, 2000); or, as another participant put it, to change the perceived role and potential
contribution of think tanks and research centers in the formulation, monitoring and lobbying for
policies (Seck, 2000, p. xii). Today, those goals are stated as to support and link research
and policy institutes involved in the field of development, and whose work is predicated on the
notion that ideas matter and support the generation and sharing of knowledge for
development and to help bridge the gap between the development of ideas and their practical
implementation. Achieving these goals involves strengthening the capacity of research and policy
institutions to undertake high-quality, policy-relevant research and to move research results into
the policy debates, at both national and global levels.
(http://www.gdnet.org/subpages/about_objectives.html).
GDNs objectives reveal a great deal of confidence in the power of knowledge,
knowledge institutions, and researchers, to induce positive policy change, and the conviction
that researchers and think tanks could and should do more to promote the implementation of
policies that follow logically from their analyses. The organization of the first GDN conferences
(Johnson and Stone, 2000, p. 15), and the focus and justification of some of GDNs early
research initiatives (see, e.g., global project Bridging research and policy, and RAPNet:
Research and Policy Network), also evidence a perception that the failure of good ideas and
good research to be reflected in better policies is primarily a communication problem, leading to
deliberate efforts to bridge research and policy to maximizing policy influence (Stone,

As mentioned, GDN is a complex and rapidly evolving organization, which may mean that some
observations about its early steps do not accurately reflect some of the latest thinking or practice. Still, most
of the highlighted elements seem to be of an enduring nature and illustrate more widespread habits of
reasoning.

2000, pp. 245-46).8 The accountability role of independent think tanks has also been
highlighted regularly in GDN work, occasionally with a caveat on the importance of keeping
good relations with centers of state power that would make it possible for these institutions to
influence policies (Stone, 2000, p. 243). Other participant-observers in the gestation of GDN
have called attention to the constructive role that think tanks could play in processes of policy
transfer (Ladi, 2000).9
Among several early criticisms of the GDN from various quarters, two stand out as
most widespread and, at the same time, most deeply felt and decisively acted upon by network
managers and founding participants: the objection to its origins within, and dependence with
respect the World Bank bureaucracy, and the complaint about the predominance of economics
to the neglect of other approaches to development analysis. On the first criticism, we would only
like to retain here for later reference that GDN, as many other international networks, was
proactively promoted by a resourceful international organization. This undoubtedly has risks, but
it may more generally appear as a plausible role for concerned donors or international agencies,
as the creation of international knowledge networks involves coordination problems not different
from those associated with the production of other public goods. In other words, many smaller
organizations, developing country researchers and research institutes may be committed to its
subsistence, once such a network exists, but not enough of them will invest in their creation
when the probabilities of success are highly uncertain and the returns seem non-rival and nonexcludable. On the second criticism, we do not want to stress here the initial limitation, but
would like to call attention to the uncharacteristic ulterior response: ever since the first GDN
meetings, efforts have been deliberately made to include other disciplines and even to
institutionalize multidisciplinarity, in the conviction that it will further the networks goals
(Johnson and Stone, 2000). In sum, those two criticisms are only re-stated here to signal some
more general problems in establishing international cooperative arrangements to strengthen

On the project Bridging research and policy and RAPNet, see


http://www.gdnet.org/subpages/projects_underresearch.html
9
The focus on think tanks to the relative neglect of other forms of support for research did not go
unquestioned. See, for example, Lindquist (2000), p. 235-36.

PESKS in developing countries, and the types of responses that prevailing thinking tends to
produce. Alternative approaches are justified and discussed in the sections below.
The GDNs research activities also illustrate some standard conceptions about research
agendas and the organization of international research efforts in an increasingly globalized world.
On one hand, the networks first global projects (on determinants of growth, the political
economy of reforms, and bridging research and policy) have the customary format of
comparative projects sponsored by large international organizations, in which the broader
design and key thematic and synthesis papers are produced by internationally recognized
experts (frequently from the North), and case studies are done by developing country
partners.10 The purpose of these projects is normally to identify transferable lessons, as well as
the contingent conditions that make those lessons applicable to other contexts. On the other
hand, the goal of supporting locally relevant research has been pursued in GDN through the
periodic awarding of regional grants, allocated to individuals and institutions on the basis of a
competitive, peer-review mechanism (Johnson and Stone, 2000).11
At first sight, many of these specific activities seem uncontroversial and even laudable.
They are possibly worth pursuing, to some extent, in any reasonable scenario. However, some
limitations of the underlying approaches will become clearer after synthesizing new knowledge
on high-quality growth and institutions, on democratic policy-making, and on the organization of
successful innovation systems. Among those comparative research projects, the one entitled
Understanding Reform has been one of the flagship initiatives in GDNs early portfolio of
activities. To GDNs management credit, its research agenda was developed through a
participatory process open almost to anyone with an internet connection and the ability to
read/write in English which isnt everybody that matters in reforms processes in the developing
world, but is significantly more than many other similar endeavors allow in terms of participation.
The project defines reforms with a clear and sensible analytical purpose:

10

See www.gdnet.org
The then vice president and chief economist of the World Bank has been credited with pushing for
support to the generation of locally relevant research (Stone, 2000), which is consistent with his ambitious
(and less than consensual) vision for GDN (Stiglitz, 2000).
11

In the context of this project, the reform to be understood is defined in an inductive


mannerthat is, what actually happened in the last twenty yearsrather than projecting
towards some subjectively determined preferred policies. Accordingly, the word
reform in this document refers to movements towards more market oriented economic
systems, usually in the context of more open political systems. (GDN, 2002, p. 1)
The proposal, and its ongoing implementation, reveal the variety of concerns that
participants in the real and virtual meetings had in mind, coming as they did from throughout the
world and various trades. For example, the proposals Background section lists nineteen
pertinent questions identified through the consultations, going from the broadest and more
fundamental (e.g., Is the end goal for all countries the samedespite a wide variety of paths
or are different forms of capitalism more effective in different countries?) to the more
instrumental ones (e.g., What is the role of the provision of information in the reform
process?). Yet, the project objectives reveal a more focused goal and approach, which is by
not means exclusive to GDN but shared with much of what comes under the rubric of new
political economy perspectives on public policy (see, e.g., Persson and Tabellini, 2000;
Drazen, 2000). The general objective of the project is stated to be to increase the body of
knowledge for the design and implementation of future reform efforts, including lessons learned
and good practices..12 Its specific objectives are:
- To analyze the causes and timing of reform programs, including both external and
internal factors.
- To provide analysis and evidence of reasons for the success and failure of reform
efforts around the globe for countries with different initial conditions and different
external environments and influences.
- To provide analysis and evidence of the role of agents in the design, implementation,
and outcomes of reform programs, as well as methods used to bring agents explicitly
into the process in a constructive manner.
- To provide strong evidence of the importance of the interaction of various forces
such as culture, society, economics, politics, and lawfor the design, implementation,
and outcome of reform programs.
- To assess the social costs and benefits of reform processes.
- To assess the role of the state in reducing the costs of and increasing the benefits to
poorer income classes, income minority and other disadvantaged groups.

12

http://www.gdnet.org/subpages/projects_underreform.html

10

- To increase the domestic capacity to undertake research related to major economic


and political reform in developing and transition countries.

As will be argued later, valuable as the new empirical evidence and analysis coming
from this project will undoubtedly be, the perspective that informs the above stated objectives
places policy researchers in developing countries, and the knowledge that they produce, in a
position that to some extent hinders rather than helps their chances of contributing to better
policy-making. It must be reiterated that this quick review of specific initiatives has the only
purpose of illustrating some shared premises of recent development practice and thinking that
the ensuing argument aims to question. It definitely does not intend to be a critique of concrete
complex, multifaceted, and evolving entities and endeavors, that usually have to deal with
multiple imperatives and constraints, and whose emergent characteristics are frequently of
nobodys or no single organizations making. In the same style, some further elements of the
conventional thinking can be identified in the emerging new approach to trade-related capacity
building.
Trade-related capacity building is a burgeoning field that has emerged and evolved out
of increased awareness of the relevance and importance of trade for development (Prowse,
2002). The evolution of the multilateral trading system in the last decade and a half has
generated new challenges for developing countries, in terms of articulating and carrying forward
negotiating strategies, implementing commitments made at multilateral, regional or bilateral
levels, and seizing opportunities (and coping with potentially adverse effects) created by changes
in market access and other trade disciplines. Multilateral agencies and developed countries have
recognized the daunting demands on the already strained capacities of poorer countries
although perhaps not fully--, and have devised a series of mechanisms to support them in those
complex endeavors.
In recent years, and consistent with a new approach to development and poverty
reduction (Maxwell, 2003), there has been a tendency to seek enhanced coordination of
apparently disjoint approaches to trade-related capacity building by various multilateral and
bilateral agencies (De Silva and Weston, 2002; Prowse, 2002), and to integrate those strategies
11

more fully in a comprehensive development framework and with the production of Poverty
Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) now required by the World Bank and the International
Monetary Fund for concessional lending and debt reduction to the worlds poorest countries
(see www.worldbank.org/cdf and UNCTAD, 2002). The range of activities encompassed by
the concept of trade-related capacity building traditionally referred to as technical
assistance includes support for trade facilitation (customs administration); external trade data
collation; training of private sector representatives and analysis to enhance private sector
participation in policy-making; training of officials in trade negotiations and implementation of
commitments, accession advice and customs administration; support for sector-specific reforms
in response to emerging trade challenges or opportunities; proactive linking of think tanks and
policy makers and advocacy; and the provision of systematic trade flows data and information
on the functioning of the multilateral system.
Clearly, technical assistance, or trade-related capacity building, are not the same as
research (Joekes and Medhora, 2001b), and tend to involve developing countries PESKS in a
relatively marginal way. Nevertheless, some elements of the recent strategies deserve mentioning
because they reflect the same kind of thinking of international development players on the role of
knowledge in institutional change even many of the key international actors are the same as
those involved in supporting local PESKS. First, it is conventionally assumed that greater donor
coordination is beneficial to the recipients of aid and technical assistance. Accountability to
donor countries taxpayers and efficiency considerations seem to lead logically in that direction.
Second, it seems sensible to require countries that benefit from sustained and significant
international aid to have a broader poverty reduction strategy, and to develop sectoral
strategies that are consistent with it. With the same logic, it appears reasonable for donors to
focus attention on actual results (i.e., social and economic performance) rather than on process
indicators (e.g., public expenditure in programs supposedly aimed at reducing poverty; see
Maxwell, 2003). As will be argued below, some of these apparently sensible strategies embody
principles that may be inconsistent with what is known about the nature of institutions for highquality growth; they may create tensions in other fronts of institution building that will appear,
under new light, prioritary; and they may hamper, rather than clear the path to the establishment
12

of knowledge systems that facilitate social learning. The following section reviews the three
streams of scholarship that will produce that necessary new light on the challenge of building
effective PESKS in developing countries.

Institutions, democratic policy-making, and knowledge systems

1. Institutions for high-quality growth

The first research body to be considered is the one concerned with the nature of the
domestic institutions that foster high-quality growth. A research program has been forcefully
put forward by Dani Rodrik and collaborators, which has already produced a number of
lessons that challenge more traditional approaches to development. Detailed discussions of
constituent elements and substantial empirical evidence are contained in a number of
publications (e.g., Rodrik 1999, 2000a). The main findings are conveniently summarized in two
recent papers (Rodrik 2000b, 2002). A bare bones version of the analytical argument, which
reflects the synthesis of a large body of empirical and analytical work, involves four initial
propositions:
(a) high-quality growth requires an assortment of non-market institutions that
support, complement and embed markets;
(b) there is not a unique mapping between markets and the non-market institutions
that underpin them;
(c) high-quality growth is promoted or hindered by the specific combination of
supporting and embedding non-market institutions, and the peculiarities of markets
in a specific time and place, and not by the respective distances between each
individual supporting institution and some ideal model; and
(d) the right combinations of institutions for high-quality growth is context-specific, i.e.,
it will vary across countries and within countries over time.

13

At a lower level of generality, Rodrik argues that institutions for high-quality growth are
those that successfully deal with five key challenges in any countrys development process. The
challenges include providing entrepreneurs adequate control over the returns to the assets that
are created or improved through accumulation and innovation; regulating markets to curb the
worst forms of fraud, anti-competitive behavior, and moral hazard; stabilizing key
macroeconomic aggregates; providing social insurance against idiosyncratic risk to incomes and
employment, which tend to become less manageable at the household or community level in a
process of rapid economic expansion; and managing social conflict (Rodrik, 2000). One may
want to argue with this list, propose additions or deletions, but the most important message of
this body of research is to shift the focus of attention to functions that must be served by
complex configurations of interrelated institutions, rather than focusing on the similarity of various
specific institutions with theoretically informed, or empirically identified sectoral best practices
(e.g., on the extent of state ownership of productive means, the nature of the law and judicial
system, or the regulation of labor market relations).13
This said, there is a fifth key proposition to the whole program on institutions for highquality growth. It states that the relevant institutional configurations inevitably embody a
collective conception of long term goals and of preferred ways of organizing the many aspects
of social life and that, therefore, institutions of democratic governance have a key role to play in
eliciting and aggregating social preferences, and in guiding a collective experimentation process
to find the right configuration for each society. This latter notion that democratic or
participatory political institutions provide an effective search algorithm for identifying the
institutional configurations that best suit a society is shared by others; notably, Stiglitz (2000).

13

In various writings, Rodrik and collaborators have cited and offered a wealth of case studies and crosscountry statistical evidence, from the experience of now developed countries and developing countries
alike, showing the lack of direct, simple correlation between specific institutional arrangements in some realm
and the overall country performance in terms of growth and distribution. On trade policy, for example, see
Rodrik (1999), and Rodrgues and Rodrik (1999). For a case study of the costly mistakes that can result from
the piecemeal approach to introducing the right institutions, see McMillan, Rodrik and Welch (2002).
More work definitely needs to be done to flesh out more clearly what is the precise nature of the functions
to be served by institutions and how the emergent properties of institutional configurations can be
identified, assessed, and linked to the nuts and bolts of a countrys institutional architecture.

14

Rodrik and Stiglitz elaborate on the specific challenges of building institutions for highquality growth that seem to relate to the greater effectiveness of democratic policy-making in
acquiring them. While the first emphasizes the context-specificity and value-ladenness of
socioeconomic institutional configurations (Rodrik 2000b, pp. 13-14), the latter states similar
and related concerns by stressing that the relevant knowledge for development has
demonstrated to be local, largely tacit, and requires society to assume an active role in the
learning process (Stiglitz, 2000, p 30). These observations, particularly on the interrelation of
institutions with other aspects of social context and the tacit nature of much of the relevant
knowledge to build and reform institutions, have been confirmed by work on the effects of
legal transplantation and the conditions under which it seems to work or fail (Berkowitz,
Pistor and Richard, 2000; Pistor, 2000).
Rodrik digs deeper in untangling the relations between political regime and
development, by demonstrating empirically that there are noticeable differences in
socioeconomic performance associated with the degree to which a political system is open to
participation. The results so far seem to be fairly summarized by the assertion that democracy is
no shortcut to higher long run growth, but it does provide much better means to moderating
costly volatility, handling adverse shocks, and distributing more equitably the gains from
economic expansion (Rodrik, 2000b). As Stiglitz has put it, we should value democratic
institutions as an end in themselves, not just as a means to more successful development
(Stiglitz, 2000, p. 26), but it is already high time that empirical and analytical work start
producing evidence and suggesting reasons for the apparent evolutionary superiority of
participatory institutions in social environments so much dominated by concerns with material
well-being.
Neither Stiglitz nor Rodrik, however, have gone beyond some general observations
about the reasons why democratic policy-making is a superior road to acquiring institutions that
are better suited to the medium term challenges of complex societies; or, in other words, about
what accounts for the intelligence of democracy. In addition to professional specialization
(and perhaps because of it), the reasons for their relative omission may have something to do

15

with their adherence to a paradigm that entails great confidence in the human ability to identify
and pursue optimal solutions. To more realistic frameworks we now turn.

2. The bounded rationality of policy-making and the intelligence of democracy

Charles Lindbloms intellectual career looks like a lifelong mission to dispel both
unfounded criticisms as well as unwarranted expectations about the functioning of democracies,
and it must be recognized for the significant contribution to a realistic understanding of what
democratic governance promises and can be expected deliver. His work perhaps best
synthesized in the last edition of his The Policy-Making Process (Lindblom and Woodhouse,
1993)has contributed to illuminate the mechanisms that account for the superiority of
democratic policy-making over the alternative of analysis-led, centralized policy-making. Many
of his ideas can be seen to have been rescued and perfected, if perhaps in different guise, by
more recent analysts of the policy-making process.14
Lindblom has tackled some of the more fundamental questions directly, such as, for
example, the question of whether analysis by itself can ever be expected to provide adequate
solutions to complex policy problems, and eventually be a preferable road to improved
management of social affairs than the messy business of democratic policy-making (Lindblom
and Woodhouse, 1993, Chapter 2). The well-substantiated answer is an emphatic no. The first
step to appreciating the limits of analysis is to acknowledge the irreducible incompleteness and
fallibility of all scientific knowledge on which such analysis would ideally be based. If the general
point has become increasingly hard to dispute for even the hard natural sciences (Collins and
Pinch, 1993), Lindblom has for many years been arguing it for the social sciences on which the
making of social and economic policies would be supposed to rely. Not only the available
scientific responses to specific questions must always be taken as established only to a certain
degree of confidence, but the sciences will normally have addressed only a subset of the

14

See, for example, Kingdon (1995) and Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith (1999).

16

relevant questions surrounding a policy issue that must be resolved.15 While in principle a larger
number of the relevant questions could be answered through more research and analysis,
adequately completing the decision-makers knowledge base may require more time and/or
resources than available or justifiable by the choice situation.16 In view of these limitations, the
lay public and policy makers are well advised to take analyses offered to them with more than
a grain of salt.
A second key limitation of analysis is that there will normally be no easily reachable
consensus on what is the fundamental problem to be solved, and therefore what is that needs to
be analyzed. For example,
When riots break out in Los Angeles, what is the real problem: decline of law and
order? racial and ethnic discrimination? poverty and joblessness? family disintegration?
poor policy training? And what are the causes of these problems? (Lindblom and
Woodhouse, 1993, p. 21)
In general, in complex self-referential systems as human societies are, there is no single way of
formulating problems or prioritizing them that is analytically right. This limitation of analysis is
connected to a third and equally fundamental one. In most of the relevant policy situations, there
will inevitably be conflicts of values and no analytical solution so as to how they should be
resolved. Even if it were possible for a society to agree on a single explanation of all the causal
mechanisms surrounding a policy problem, on the soundness of the evidence that supports it,
and on the likely consequences of alternative policy options, stake-holders are probably going
to disagree on the solutions because they are likely to be affected differently by them (unless the
problem is trivial). Decades of research in social choice theory have produced some partial
responses to the problem of choosing among policies in this context, but none that has come to
15

Their example of the usual incompleteness of social science knowledge when societies arrive at critical
policy crossroads is also pertinent to our concern with the construction of institutions for high-quality
growth: in the view of Lindblom and Woodhouse, the formerly communist nations are merely copying
western-style political and economic systems instead of taking advantage of the social flexibility in eastern
Europe to try out new political and economic arrangements Part of the reason is that European and
American social scientists had not developed sufficiently detailed and helpful alternatives. (p. 16)
16
Lindblom has also been among those that has questioned the value of studying the policy-making
process as a sequence of distinct and logically sequenced steps, from problem emergence, through policy
formulation, decision making, implementation, to evaluation. For an updated review of the literature see
Sutton (1999); see also Juma and Clark (1995).

17

be generally accepted as the solution to this fundamental political problem.17 For all these
reasons, analysis, or the scientific formulation of policies, does not appear as a sensible
substitute for democratic policy-making.
However, the fact that analysis has limits does not in itself demonstrate the superiority of
democratic policy-making. A closer look at how democratic policy-making operates would be
required to demonstrate the intelligence of democracy a tall order, indeed, given the
apparent folly of many of the choices made by fully democratic societies and governments. In
Lindblom and Woodhouses view, the intelligence of democracy resides in it promoting
agreement rather than an apparently impossibleshared understanding. If an intelligent
political process is one that takes into account non-trivially the concerns of sizeable groups of a
society (i.e., is responsive), that manages sensibly the usual tradeoffs in seeking multiple goals,
and that, insofar as possible, takes into account available information (about problems,
opportunities, performance of existing policies, etc.), democracies can be said to achieve
intelligent policy-making, at least more frequently than non-democratic regimes (p. 25).
The key to intelligent decision making by democracies and, in the same line, to
intelligent search for pro-development institutionsis the interaction among political participants
that do not share a dominant common purpose (other, perhaps, than their commitment to
playing by the rules of the democratic game). Interestingly enough, intelligent decision making
does not require participants to overcome their partial, incomplete understanding of the
problems, or their partisan approach to the solutions. Interactions among partisan and
cognitively limited participants will produce responsive solutions, based on a sensible
management of tradeoffs, and will incorporate a significant amount of available information (i.e.,
will yield intelligent choices), without nobody really understanding the problem (or in fact
producing a form of understanding that no single analysis is able to produce). In successful
democratic policy-making, there is never a point at which the thinking, research, and action is
objective, or unbiased. It is partisan through and through, as are all human activities (pp.
31-32).

17

The classic in this literature is, of course, Arrow (1951). See also Sen (1986).

18

On close scrutiny, the interaction of partisan participants in fact produces a form of


strategic analysis through distributing processing of information and the forcing of agreements.
In The Policy-Making Process, Lindblom and Woodhouse argue that democratic policymaking allows societies to simplify and solve complex problems, by operating through simple
incremental analysis (which is time-efficient, and uses what normally constitutes the best
available knowledge which is knowledge of past experience), focusing on few policy options
(rather than being potentially paralyzed by an attempt to compute all the possible scenarios and
options), focusing mostly on ills to be remedied, and proceeding through trial and error (pp. 2930).18 A great deal of recent empirical work and many of the most promising approaches to the
policy-making process can be made compatible with this broader and older framework, as
illustrated in the references added to the revised third edition.
However, it would be fair to wonder how these apparently promising problem-solving
strategies could be reconciled with the obvious fact that democracies adopt apparently wrong
policies, that waste resources or seem to neglect the most basic needs of so many people
unjustly relegated to indigence. The key here is to recognize that decisions so arrived are going
to be boundedly rational. Those choices cannot ever be optimal (if the term had an
unambiguous meaning in social choice contexts) nor substantively rational (in Herbert Simons
famous words; Simon, 1976). Still, democracies tend in general to produce systematically and
persistently wrong policies less often than non-democratic regimes (see, e.g., Sen, 19XX). In
general, fewer decision-making actors even if assisted by the best available sciencewill tend
to neglect aspects of the problem. When the inevitable fallibility and value-ladenness of
technically developed solutions is added, the superiority of decentralized information gathering
and decision-making through negotiated agreement becomes really plausible. Lindauer and

18

Cyert and March (1963) had earlier demonstrated that even smaller, more hierarchical organizations, end
up behaving similarly, essentially because the challenges of decision making in complex dynamic
environments prevents them from attempting more than doing good enough given some more or less
precisely defined objectives and satisficing thresholds. Mosley (1976, 1984) has shown that resourceful and
sophisticated democratic governments, in relatively technical and typically non-participatory policy areas
such as the management of stabilization policy, also behave similarly. Conlisk (1996) is a good recent
synthesis of the reasons why even professional academic economists ought to think more seriously about
bounded rationality, why Sargent (1993) represents just one of various striking examples of how apparently
old-fashioned hypotheses have resurfaced in recent years.

19

Pritchett (2002) further illustrate the risk of expecting technically-driven decision-making by


non-participatory means to solve any complex social problems: in many policy areas, and in
development policy in particular, conventional wisdoms can be shown to move in a pendular
fashion, following big swings in the underlying conditions that made a certain paradigm look
adequate. When this happens, even social scientists tend to neglect issues, bundle analytically
separable policy options, and change the focus of attention on empirical evidence more or less
arbitrarily. This bounded rationality of policy analysis only reinforces the worries about power
concentration in the hands of those who know (or are supposed to know) best.
While democratic decision making can make use of distributed knowledge and can
count on participation by multiple partisan actors to avoid neglecting key problems for too long,
we should not hold unrealistic expectations about the choices emerging from democratic policymaking. In fact, The Policy-Making Process offers some disquieting illustrations of the risks of
democratic decision making being derailed by the influence of bureaucratic capture, economic
and political inequality, or the imperfection of voting mechanisms. To the extent that the
intelligence of systems varies with their specific institutional configurations (p. 55), there are
reasons to hope that the intelligence of real world democracies can be enhanced through
political and bureaucratic reform. This will not avoid the intrinsic imperfection of democratic
policy-making, and the adequate limits of participatory decision-making, vis--vis delegation to
technical agencies, will have to be explored and decided adaptively. Moreover, there may be
significant space for improving on democratic decision-making by making more effective use of
systematically gathered information and research-based knowledge.

3. The new organization of successful innovation systems

Without perhaps fully agreeing on the novelty of the process some could argue that
what is novel is the way science studies scholars approach the issues--, a new picture has been
20

emerging in recent years of the organization of effective innovation systems and the production
of knowledge for the solution of concrete social or technological problems. While this new
perspective has been informing concrete efforts to reorganize, for example, the way international
environmental assessments are produced (ICSU, 2002), it has been very slow to permeate
thinking and practice on the organization of economic and social research to support institution
building in development. This relative neglect, as the inattention to lessons on institutions and
high-quality growth or on the potential and limits of participatory policy-making, may be
preventing investments of resources and effort from realizing their full potential.
The seminal articulation of the emerging new perspective, and the argument about the
novelty of the processes observed, was offered by Gibbons et al. (1994). These authors
propose that a new mode of organization of knowledge production has been emerging in the last
couple of decades, and that its distinctive characteristics are more clearly discernible in the most
dynamic and creative knowledge-based industries and research fields. A number of features
would distinguish this new mode from the one that prevailed during most of the XXth century.
First, in the new mode, knowledge is generated mainly in the context of application, while in the
previous mode it was the cognitive and social norms of academic disciplines that primarily
determined the dynamics of knowledge production. Second, the new problem-oriented
research tends to be transdisciplinary by the very nature of the situation that motivates it, which
is primarily to solve concrete real world problems rather than answer disciplinary valid
questions. Transdisciplinarity, in the new mode of knowledge production, involves the
generation of new, provisional consensus on cognitive and social practice appropriate to tackle
the problems of interest rather than simply assembling disciplinary diverse teams that still look
at the problem from each individual disciplines perspectives--, and these consensus tend to be
tacitly more than explicitly arrived at and communicated. Third, the new production of
knowledge is characterized by the heterogeneity of the institutional landscape in which it
operates (including also a greater variety of funding sources), with universities or formal research
institutes no longer being the privileged sites (though they still play a key role in a broader and
more diverse landscape characterized by temporary inter-institutional partnerships). Fourth, the
new mode is characterized by much greater accountability to relevant stake-holders, and
21

reflexivity about the implications of the knowledge being generated and the limits of scientifically
produced certainties. Fifth, the new mode of production of knowledge involves new
mechanisms of quality control and validation of the knowledge generated, consistent with its
problem-oriented nature. While in the previous mode peer review was the quintessential
validation mechanism to define what is worth studying and who is qualified to pursue the
answers, in the new mode there is a wider set of criteria to judge quality and allocate resources
to research including most prominently the usefulness of the knowledge to the collective
solution of the initial and subsequent problems. The new quality control and validation
mechanisms do not give up the quest for technical excellence, but technical strength per se
weights less in the new mode of knowledge production.
While inductively derived from empirical work on successful innovation systems, the
features of the new mode of knowledge production are, perhaps not surprisingly, more
compatible with contemporary epistemological reflection on the sources of strength of scientific
knowledge and its newly appreciated limits (Collins and Pinch, 1993; Restivo, 1994; Gibbons,
1999; Hands, 2001). Although not concerned primarily with the social sciences, some of the
policy implications identified by Gibbons and collaborators seem quite relevant to the
challenge of organizing PESKS to support the development of new social technologies (i.e.,
institutions). They include a recognition of the pivotal role of networks and the search for
policies to encourage and facilitate communications (density of communications being one of
their indicators of success); a greater openness to the participation of the relevant stakeholders
in problem definition and validation of results; a de-centering of science policies (traditionally
focused on support to universities or other university-like research institutes); a new role for
government science agencies as brokers in knowledge games and regulators of competition and
cooperation among and within networks; and generally a necessary revision of education
policies, science and technologies policy, and competition policies.
Interestingly enough, recent empirical research on the effectiveness of scientific
environmental assessments in influencing global policy-making has shown the greater impact of
the research-for-policy endeavors that conform better to the features of the new mode of
knowledge production. They also highlight the role of knowledge systems institutions in affecting
22

effectiveness. Based on a program of work that has taken them many years of tracking scientific
environmental assessments and their impact on choices made at the international level, Clark et
al (2002) start by pointing that influential assessments are the exception rather than the rule.
The most influential assessments, they argue, are those that are simultaneously perceived by
a broad array of actors to possess three attributes: saliency, credibility, and legitimacy (p. 7,
emphasis added). The three attributes connect logically with features of the new mode of
successful innovation identified by Gibbons et al., and this should not be surprising since what is
at stake in global environmental policy-making is precisely social innovation at a grand scale.
Salience points to the problem-oriented nature of knowledge that is effectively used,
as a non-salient question is a no-problem for complex decision making entities however
important it might appear to analysts.19 In turn, credibility and legitimacy relate directly to
the new meaning of quality control and validation in the new mode of knowledge
production. The first of these two attributes is defined as whether an actor perceives the
assessments arguments to meet standards of scientific plausibility and technical adequacy
(Clark et al., p. 7). In brief, to be taken up by decision-makers, the assessment must be
recognizable as good science. However, the authors whole point is that credibility by itself is
not enough: while addressing questions relevant to the actors present choice situation,
assessments must be simultaneously perceived as credible and legitimate, with legitimacy
defined as whether an actor perceives the assessment as unbiased and meeting standards of
political fairness (p. 7, emphasis added). Specifically, some assessments that have been too
stringent in deciding who has the right to participate, based on the standard indicators of
scientific competence, have failed miserably to be influential because they have been perceived
as illegitimate (Cash and Clark, 2001).
Most relevant for our present concerns, the extensive empirical work of Clark and
collaborators has led them to conclude that the inevitable tradeoffs that occur when attempting
to enhance the perceived salience, credibility, or legitimacy of an assessment are usually

19

It is not hard to relate saliency to our previous discussion of the problem-solving strategies of
democracy, which highlighted the importance of research-based knowledge being available when the policymaking system has turned its limited attention to a problem. See also Kingdon (1995).

23

resolved by its institutional organization. In other words, the institutions and processes
surrounding the production of scientific analyses do matter to make such analyses more or less
influential, because they determine their saliency, credibility and legitimacy (see also Cash and
Clark, 2001). More specifically, the authors have identified degree of institutional
embeddedness, nature of the science-policy boundary spanning arrangements, and
provisions for collective learning and self-reflection as the institutional features that have
proved to be most important in determining an assessments potential influence.20 Notably,
environmental scientists and agencies are beginning to act on these lessons (ICSU, 2002, and
references therein), but the lessons are far from being satisfactorily reflected in many ongoing
efforts to support the establishment and strengthening of PESKS and research capacity for
institution-building in developing countries.

Implications: creating PESKS to support institution-building

The three literatures reviewed draw a specific picture of the challenges for local PESKS
in developing countries. Even though they have developed somewhat unconnectedly, they point
in similar directions on many of the issues that researchers, research managers, policy makers
and international development agencies must confront. Starting from the most general, they
reaffirm the instrumental value of participatory political institutions in the collective search for
institutional arrangements to promote high-quality growth. Democratic political institutions have
spread rapidly throughout the world in the last two decades. However, the replacement of
authoritarian regimes with elected governments is only the first of a long series of steps that need
to be taken for democratic decision-making to become the accepted rules of the game in a
given society. Even granting that different models of democracy may be preferable for different
social environments (Unger, 1998), there are many forms of organization of political life that
20

The management of institutional embeddedness is no easy task, as research efforts that are too close
to institutions with a particular angle on the problem may become illegitimate, while if they are too removed
from the key institutional players they may become less useful to the ultimate intended beneficiaries of the
knowledge (Clark et al., 2002).

24

may have the attributes of democracies but retain several elements of authoritarian decisionmaking (O'Donnell, 1994). As Lindblom has argued, the intelligence of a regime depends on its
specific institutional configuration, and the relevant institutions to consider include regularized
patterns of interaction that are not written in any law but can only become accepted through
repeated interaction among the participants. In other words, while democratic policy-making is
required to search more effectively for institutions of socioeconomic organization, democratic
policy-making institutions can only be acquired through persistent trial-and-error and
adaptation, within the imperfect political rules that any existing regime is likely to have.
What from other perspectives could be considered a limitation of participatory policymaking that is, its potential inability to adopt analytically best solutions to policy problems
is in this new framework a source of strength. On one hand, incrementalism and adaptive
learning become a bonus in the face of more honest epistemological accounts of the power of
science. From the perspective of identifying institutions for high-quality growth, the contextdependence of any particular or sectoral arrangements performance determines a revalorization
of incrementalism. Incremental institutional change is the ideal learning strategy for complex
decision-making entities democraciesto incorporate new information on the fit of newly
acquired institutions with previously existing ones and with those others that may be starting to
change. This gradualism, in turn, may facilitate the mutual adjustment and inevitably slow
learning by partisan actors, which are necessary to consolidate acceptance of the democratic
rules of the political game.
Participatory decision-making is not without costs, but then no known political
mechanism is. In some areas (e.g., the management of monetary policy, the application and
enforcement of competition codes) it may seem that the technical difficulties involved would
prevent decision making by participatory mechanisms. In others, it may appear that the need
from prompt timely action prevents the degree of consultation that participatory seems to
entail, or that broad-based consultation may neglect the interest of suffering and politically weak
segments (e.g., on poverty reduction or poverty alleviation policies). However, this apparent
dismissal of democratic decision-making for certain policy areas is frequently based on a wrong
appreciation of what democratic policy-making entails: no democratic regime that is viable in
25

todays world environment can submit each and every socioeconomically relevant issue to the
decision of the electorate. What seems to matter in the long run is that even the apparently more
technical realms of policy-making remain open to scrutiny and ultimately accountable to the
political body. This may mean different degrees of political oversight and flexibility of the
delegation contracts with executive agencies. Those degrees will make a difference on the
responsiveness of the system as well as on their effectiveness. Yet, what the literature on
institutions and economic performance and the literature on democratic policy-making forcefully
demonstrate is that no auto-pilot solutions promote high-quality growth, to a good extent
because no science that we know can anticipate all the contingencies that a society will have to
confront even in a relatively near future.21
In this perspective, social science research can certainly help to produce more
intelligent (i.e., responsive, sensible about tradeoffs, and well-informed) policy-making but it
may need to be organized differently than commonly assumed. We now turn to a brief review of
the specific implications for developing country actors and for international participants in the
effort to establish pro-development PESKS. A necessary caveat is that the recommendations
below tend to focus on the more applied, or problem-driven segments of research. The limited
consideration given to basic social sciences research is not meant to detract from its value, but
reflects the relative priority given to the former in recent international efforts to build research
capacity in the developing world.22

1. Implications for developing countries actors

21

For a recent articulation of auto-pilot solutions for the management of monetary policy in some
developing countries, see Sachs (2002); for the inevitability of inconsistency in a rapidly evolving
environment, even within a single analysts internally consistent frameworks, see Dornbusch (2000) and
Rius (forthcoming).
22
The applied-vs.-basic distinction seems to take us back to the old modes of organization of research that
were previously questioned. Gibbons et al. (1994), however, recognize the current coexistence of the two
modes, and the need to think about their ongoing interactions. Basic social science for development seems
to involve specific challenges that cannot be duly covered here.

26

Taken together, the three literatures reviewed above have implications for the formation
and contents of research agendas in developing countries PESKS, as well as for the
organization of those knowledge systems and the role of external supporting agents. Table 1
summarizes the implications for developing country researchers, managers of research institutes
and science agencies, and for policy makers. It compares them to those flowing from the
conventional wisdom, so as to highlight some novel implications of the proposed approach.
However, in several cases it will become clear that the difference between the two approaches
is more one of emphases than of substituting one strategy for another. In several other cases, the
proposed alternative is not entirely novel, although it may not have been articulated before in
similar terms.

27

Table 1
Implications for developing country actors:
Conventional wisdom vs. alternative approach
Area of intervention

Conventional wisdom

Alternative approach

Politically antiseptic
* democratization as background,
reforms as focus
* substantive rationality of policy
process is implicitly expected

Politically embedded
* democratic consolidation prior
to other institution-building goals
* bounded rationality assumed
(including uncertainties
surrounding technical knowledge)
* research agendas arise from
ongoing collaboration with real
world political actors
* path dependence recognized,
deep exploration within the range
of politically feasible options
Problem-oriented
* problem situation and
stakeholders shape questions and
approaches (researchers actively
engaged, but do not necessarily
lead)

Research agendas

* New Political Economy


perspective: partisan political
competition as constraint
* status quo measured against
ideal solutions or best practice
Disciplinary relevant
* peer endorsed questions and
approaches

Organization of research
industry
Disciplinary, technically
oriented
* geared at producing reliable
knowledge
* focus on outputs (e.g.,
publications as indicators)
Build internationally up to par
institutes/centers
* HR policies geared at
developing disciplinary
qualifications
* few sites of knowledge
production, efficiency

Problem-oriented
* geared at producing socially
robust knowledge
* focus on process (ongoing) and
density of communications
Build diverse distributed systems
* HR policies geared at
developing disciplinary
qualifications and fungibility
* multiple sites assumed, tolerate
some redundancy

The contents of much research for development that is produced in international


networks or at the local level in developing countries may need to change, in light of the lessons
summarized above. While a vast majority of that research recognizes that democratization is a

28

desirable process that often occurs in parallel with necessary institutional reforms to foster
socioeconomic advancement, too little of that research makes the consolidation of democracy a
key objective, at par or even prior to any other institutional reform objectives. In light of the
literatures reviewed above, it would be justifiable and sensible to postpone consideration of
certain apparently promising economic or social reforms if there was any evidence that they
could create tensions that a weakly consolidated democracy might not be able to bear. Yet,
almost no of the research on reforms consistently applies this democratic consolidation test to
its analyses. Moreover, when some recent political economy approaches are adopted, the
institutions of democratic policy-making are all too often characterized (frequently with very little
care for the local specificity of political rules of the game) as constraints that must be recognized
by reformist policy-makers to succeed, rather than as the object that needs to be preserved
and perfected for ongoing social learning and adaptation in the building of pro-development
institutions.23
Most developing country social science researchers or managers of research institutes
will feel insulted by the suggestion that their work undermines democratic consolidation.
However, conventional approaches to producing knowledge for institutional reform frequently
have the unintended effect of exacerbating tensions that weakly consolidated democracies
would rather do without. That happens, for example, when independent think tanks produce
research on possible institutional innovations in some specific policy area that takes the form of
comparisons between the status quo with the putative benefits of some theoretical model, or the
apparent international best practice. This approach is not only often ignorant of the contextdependence of specific institutions performance, but it also has the added effect of portraying
policy makers, who usually struggle to do well enough within the realm of the politically
feasible, as incompetent or servile to special interest. This is not to diminish the value of research
that demonstrates the often perverse effects of institutional inertia, or to argue that only research
23

Consider, for example, the defense of shock therapy in XXXX. For a counter-argument, see ODonnell
(1995) and Rodrik (1996). See also Haughton (1998). The reasoning in favor of swift economic reform that
relegates democratic consolidation to a second order consideration frequently assumes that democratization
will eventually be stimulated by liberalizing reforms and the putative expansion in economic opportunity.

29

that is demanded by partisan participants should be justified, but to argue that, as with global
environmental assessments, research to support social learning for institutional innovation must
be politically legitimate and cognizant of the volatility of issue saliency, to be effective. This
requires new approaches to research agenda formulation, and social scientists convinced of the
superiority of certain policy agendas should be prepared to engage with rather than just
challengethe partisan participants of the democratic process.
As suggested by Gibbons et al. (1994), research managers and managers of science
agencies have a new key role to play in brokering innovative partnership arrangements between
social sciences research institutions and the intended users (government agencies, political
parties or their legislative delegations, civil society organizations) of research for institutional
change. While networks are the current mantra in the knowledge-for-development world, the
perspective advocated here implies that in many cases there will be a need to revise the
membership and shift the center of gravity of those networks: research networks should
become much more distinctively multi-stakeholder policy networks (Reinicke and Deng, 2000;
Joekes and Medhora, 2001a), and research users should be given more leverage over their
priority-setting. The latter has been accepted as a sound approach to fostering technological
innovation in developing countries (Mayorga, 1997), but it is far less than normal practice in the
organization and funding of the social sciences to support policy-making.
The necessary political embeddedness of social research to ensure that it supports
decision making may seem to undermine the required objectivity or rigor of social science.
This view, however, not only fails to recognize the real nature of objectivity in any science
(Restivo, 1994), but it also reduces arbitrarily the variety of possible arrangements to be
worked out with partisan political actors. To reflect the need for mutual understanding of each
others needs, aspirations, and constraints; and to demonstrate the ongoing nature of the
interaction, researchers in the field of environmental sciences and the global environmental
assessments have designated the new forms of stakeholder-researchers partnerships as coproduction dialogues (Clark et al., 2003). Through those dialogues, engaged research
There is little need to emphasize that the assumption has been dramatically proven wrong in too many
developing countries in recent years.

30

producers and research users can expect to expand the levels of intelligence in decision-making
through negotiation and mutual adjustment, rather than leveling down the intelligence of scientific
analysis. What seems clearer under the light of the literatures reviewed is that there should be a
more limited constructive role for independent, sniper type of think tanks, and for research
that fails to meaningfully incorporate knowledge of the real choice situations faced by political
actors.
Another set of implications concern specifically the institutional organization of PESKS.
In the conventional wisdom, it makes sense to work towards ensuring that countries have a few
sites of knowledge production that are up to par with global disciplinary social science, can
interpret, adapt and produce similar research, and can feed it to a broad audience or to
governments. In the alternative approach, the social learning that has to occur requires diverse,
distributed systems of knowledge generation. In other words, it enhances the quality of
democratic policy-making if actors that are partisan and do not trust or agree with other actors
analyses can also rely on their own trusted sources of evidence-based analysis. Of course they
will be tradeoffs between feeding these partisan actors with trustworthy analyses while at the
same time striving to keep them technically sound, but there is no simple substitute for a diverse
constellation of sites of knowledge production that work with partisan actors. Science policy
managers, therefore, may need to accept some apparent redundancy in PESKS and do not
attempt to over-rationalize their organization by, perhaps, concentrating all resources in single
sites or modalities. The new perspective also implies that diversity in the sources of funding may
be a good thing, and not just as frequently seen todayan undesirable upshot of the decline in
public funding for higher education and research (Caldern and Provoste, 1990).24
Finally, the individual qualifications that are required in more problem-driven research
systems are to some extent different from those that seem functional to old models of
knowledge production. Ability to work in transdisciplinary teams is much more valuable, a point
that is more carefully examined in the next sub-section. More generally, training of social

24

Gibbons et al. (1994) argue that, to some extent, the new mode of organization of knowledge production
is a consequence of greater financial pressures on universities, and a change in the sources of funding for
research.

31

scientists and policy analysts would need to strengthen skills that facilitate traveling between
problem areas and collaboration with multiple stake-holders and specialists. This does not, as
noted by Gibbons and collaborators, eliminate the need for discipline-based training, but points
to necessary complements to the traditional models of disciplinary education in developing
countries (e.g., temporary professional study-practice appointments with policy agencies or
social/political organizations; internships in problem-oriented research institutes; interdisciplinary
review committees for applied theses and dissertations; etc.).

2. Implications for external partners

The new conventional wisdom on PESKS for development seems more firmly
established, and with possibly farther reaching consequences, among international development
players. The new perspective emanating from the three literatures has significant implications for
international development practice geared at supporting the generation of indigenous knowledge
for development, sometimes in stark contrast with the prescriptions of the conventional wisdom
(see Table 2). This said, the proposed alternative and the predominant consensus agree on a
first initial point: external partners can make a significant contribution to establishing prodevelopment knowledge systems in developing countries, and in some cases and for some
purposes external interventions may be the only solution to excessively tight resource
constraints, market failures and coordination problems.25
As suggested by the brief review of GDNs activities, international organizations
oftentimes tend to support research for development through mechanisms that allow its
questions and approaches to be driven by the global advances in some relevant discipline or in
development thinking more broadly. The three literatures examined suggest, instead, that greater
attention should be paid to the perception of development bottlenecks in the political systems of
25

For example, there may not be a sufficiently articulate demand for policy analyses in very poor
developing countries, in part because there is no tradition of their sustained production and use. Therefore,
in the absence of an initial push, those countries may be caught in a vicious circle preventing the
constructive utilization of creativity and information that is otherwise available (Joekes and Medhora, 2001).

32

the developing countries themselves. This could imply paying greater attention and giving greater
recognition to the process by which research questions originate in developing countries, as a
criterion of their relevance, rather than relying on established professional understanding of the
true roots or key challenges of development. In response to this, and the associated challenge of
encouraging problem-oriented research, some funding agencies (IDRC, 2000) have been
experimenting with problem-oriented programs, as opposed to generic or disciplinary research
funding mechanisms.26 This appears as a promising avenue to pursue, although it does not fully
take care of the issue of how to organize and manage global or regional support strategies that
remain responsive to individual countries specific innovation trajectories and their associated,
possibly widely heterogeneous, evolving knowledge priorities.

26

IDRCs programs focus on problem areas such as peace building and reconstruction, governance,
equity and health, or microeconomic impacts of macroeconomic and adjustment policies.

33

Table 2
Implications for international and other external partners:
Conventional wisdom vs. alternative approach
Area of intervention
Research agendas and research
approaches

Conventional wisdom/practice

Alternative approach

Driven by disciplinary advances

Driven by developing countries


perception of key challenges
* no questions old fashioned
(depending on gestation),
responsive agendas
* problem-oriented programs, all
the transdisciplinarity required by
problem
Focus on capacity to tackle
questions

* global, international peer


assessment of pertinence
* disciplinary programs and/or
institutionalized
multidisciplinarity
Focus on contents (solutions)
and identifying/transferring best
practice
* development of methods for
comparative research

* cross-country analyses of
effectiveness, comparative
studies

* development of methods for


producing socially robust
knowledge
* transdisciplinary meta analyses
of institutions/functions
mappings
* in-depth country analyses
* typologies of democracies,
political actors and modes of
social learning

Research capacity building


assistance
Focus on technically strong,
advocacy savvy think tanks
* donor coordination,
harmonization, for efficiency
* preference for independent
think tanks
* results-based management,
results = policies based on
research
* based on single (Anglo-Saxon)
model of democratic policymaking and PESKS

Focus on polycentric networks of


semi-autonomous research nodes
* donor division of labor, tolerate
apparent redundancy
* support independent research
institutes as well as partisan
think tanks
* influence on policies not
guaranteed (educate Northern
constituencies on limits of
capacity building)
* based on empirically informed
typologies of political systems,
including variety of democracies
and research-policy linkages

Networks
Proactive building of
international networks, and
devolution
Knowledge networks led by
researchers/experts

34

Responsive networking and help


in solving coordination failure
(brokering role)
Multi-stakeholder networks

Problem-oriented programs and research initiatives have the advantage of providing a


more natural, less artificial setting to seek multidisciplinarity. The need for multidisciplinary
approaches to development has been heralded by a number of observers, over many years (for
a recent statement, see Kanbur, 2002). As mentioned before, the GDN was forced to become
more open to the broader social sciences by external pressure, and opted to do it by
institutionalizing multidisciplinarity e.g., in its definition and governance structure (Stone, 2000).
Resistance to multidisciplinarity is not just a problem of initiatives led by big organizations in
which one discipline prevails, but is a more general problem associated with the necessary
formation of professional identities and distinct worldviews by discipline-based higher education
(Gibbons et al., 1994, chapter 6). The shift to problem-oriented research makes
transdisciplinarity the necessary response to the complexity of real world policy problems,
rather than a theoretically-driven strategy or a tactical move to enhance perceived legitimacy. In
the successful new modes of organization of knowledge-based innovation, transitory, weakly
institutionalized transdisciplinary teams are the norm, and there tends to be no more but no less
transdisciplinarity than required to tackle a problem satisfactorily where what is satisfactory
is negotiated among the stake-holders and the experts, on examination of the questions to be
answered and their knowledge requirements.
The alternative approach to research for development also demands of international
networks and agencies more than a contribution to identify best practice and facilitate policy
transfer. Researchers and policy makers in developing countries will need basic knowledge
and methodologies to produce technically solid as well as socially robust knowledge, more than
they will need models of institutional arrangements to be imitated. International networks and
cooperation agencies can make a significant contribution to mobilize the former type of
knowledge, perhaps reallocating resources currently devoted to comparative, best practice
research. To be more effective, these organizations will also need sophisticated empiricallybased typologies of political institutions and actors in the developing world, and of their patterns
of utilization of research-based knowledge. Amazingly too little is available in the form of

35

systematized typologies of politico-institutional landscapes, organized as guidelines for capacitybuilding programs that aim to simultaneously promote democratic consolidation and expand the
intelligence of real world democracies.27
Similarly, the research emanating from international development networks and agencies
all too frequently reflects the same bias of the academic professions in the social sciences
towards favoring the innovative, one-of-a-kind study that seems to reveal entirely new answers,
as opposed to the apparently less creative, but perhaps socially more valuable meta-analyses
and triangulation of findings from various studies around specific policy questions. The medical
sciences, in which those meta-analyses are regularly produced and much sought, perhaps could
be considered a better model for the social sciences than the humanities archetype of individual,
inspiration-driven creation.
The mechanisms of international support for capacity creation should also have to be rethought. The need to create systems of distributed, embedded knowledge production sites in
developing countries will speak against greater donor coordination that seems to require every
investment to be fully consistent with a single comprehensive development strategy. This is in
fact a new and difficult challenge, as it will seem to run directly against established thinking to
argue that donors should not be too concerned with coordinating their work, while at the same
time expecting that they also increase their financial commitment to supporting developing
countries PESKS.28 Yet, from the perspective of the assisted countries and of the ultimate
goals of that assistance, too much coordination may be a hindrance, as it may prevent the
various relevant segments of those societies from having access to trusted and technically sound,
research-based knowledge for participation in policy dialogues and policy-making.
Instead of generic coordination, or consistency with some overarching frameworks,
donors could appease their domestic constituencies by demonstrating their commitment to
sensible divisions of labor. Some may specialize in supporting government agencies, others in

27

This deficit becomes more ominous when compared with the amount of resources invested in analyzing
statistical databases of cross-country data, in search for the few key variables that can be claimed to
account for growth performance or other socioeconomic outcomes. See also Lindauer and Pritchett (2002).
28
The expectation of increased investments is not elaborated here, but follows logically from much of what
is said in this section.

36

supporting business organizations, while others could prefer to support grassroots organizations
or disenfranchised groups. They could make resources available to these and other stakeholders, to generate knowledge for addressing policy problems, in collaboration with domestic
research organizations. Or some of them could specialize in providing core funding or project
funding to research institutes, on the basis of credible plans to work with the relevant stakeholders (having them sit in their boards, or establishing co-production dialogues to generate
research agendas, validate findings, and inform decision-making).29 Still some other donors, as
is the case with German foundations affiliated with major political parties, may choose to
support like-minded think tanks. More generally, all donors may want to think more favorably
about the role that partisan organizations and other committed research institutes can play in
many democracies. As with economic institutions, knowledge system institutions will have to be
built with due consideration of the political context, and thus developing country actors should
be granted a significant degree of autonomy to experiment and choose the forms of organization
that best suit their circumstances. What would need to be avoided as a general rule would be
the search for financial efficiency and reassurance to Northern constituencies through the
concentration of funding and technical support in a few high-profile knowledge production sites
or initiatives.
The proposed strategies are likely to create tensions in donors domestic front. They
may be risky, as they put support for research even closer to the messy political arena. At the
same time, they may seem to place some donors still one additional step removed from
influencing policies. What will be required, as a complementary effort, is that development
agencies undertake to educate developed country constituencies on the complexity of assisting
countries to work their way out of underdevelopment. One message to be stressed may be that
the results against which these investments need to be measured are the strength of
democratic institutions in the assisted countries and the quality of policy debate, rather than, say,
29

The reconsideration of core institutional funding as a valuable option should be one novel implication
from the analytical framework. Core funding to research institutions has been disappearing from the toolkit
of capacity building agencies. It can serve the purpose of providing support to indigenously developed
agendas, providing flexibility for those agendas to evolve with issue saliency and policy opportunities in

37

the adoption of allegedly pro-poor policies, a reduced incidence of poverty or a higher rate of
growth. Hard to measure and to account for, as those results are, they are the only ones that
appears sensible to seek, since the policies should increasingly be of the countries own making,
and the outcomes depend on a much greater number of factors than donors can ever expect to
influence.
Finally, the reviewed analytical arguments would suggest that a responsive brokering
role that insists on the value of including multiple-stakeholders, would be a more logical role to
seek by committed international development agencies than the alternative of proactive
network-building and focus on researchers-led networks. The responsive brokering role
acknowledges that domestic realities will dictate whether, and in what forms, international
networking makes sense to local PESKS actors. It aims to solve coordination problems when
they become apparent, and to bring to the table resources that may have not been imagined to
exist by developing countries partners, but it does not impose partnership modalities, thematic
orientations, or mechanisms of relevance assessment that may seem appropriate from the
outside. As with the local institutions, the global development community is likely to benefit from
a number of overlapping, competing and cooperating knowledge networks, favoring various
approaches, focusing on different questions, featuring various geographic coverage, operating
under various governance mechanisms, rather than any small number of these collaborative
undertakings.

the recipient countries, and if adequately managedit can provide the right incentives to stimulate
problem-oriented, socially embedded research.

38

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