Princeton University Online

Making Government Work in Hard Places

Jennifer Widner, Professor of Politics and International Affairs, Director of Innovations for Successful Societies
A free course from Princeton University
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The Course

Across the globe many political leaders and civic groups seek to help their governments work better. They have the will to build change and a vision of a better future for citizens. The challenge is how to deliver on the promises made—how to create new practices, build new institutions, implement new policies, and transform incentives to sustain improvement.

This course introduces a way to think about solutions to common, yet difficult delivery challenges. Each week we will read a case study together, examine a problem in detail, create a “solutions" toolkit, and highlight potential obstacles. Then we offer you a second case study on the same theme. You will have a chance to offer your own thoughts and review one another's suggestions and ideas. Although it is possible to audit the course, we hope most of you will join a team and collaborate with others to come up with new ideas.

The case studies explore a range of institutions and institutional changes, although all focus on creating the underpinnings for economic growth, improved quality of life, inclusiveness, and peace—four broad “development challenges." Drawn from actual experience around the world, each case starts with the problems a reform leader faces and traces the steps taken to address these. You will have a chance to assess the process and decide whether the solutions might work in your own context, assess their strengths and weaknesses, and offer new proposals.

The course introduces concepts and insights from applied political economy and the science of delivery. Sample topics include: reducing delay, error, and diversion of funds in citizen services; using citizen monitoring and community-driven projects to improve services in rural areas; preventing conflicts of interest or self-dealing from blocking institutional reform (focused on anti-corruption commissions and port reform); building trust and changing public expectations (city management examples); overcoming capacity traps (what to do when brain drain, political turbulence, or other problems de-skill government); facilitating inter-ministerial coordination at the cabinet level; strategy development and institutional transformation.

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