Better Rural Services through Decentralization?

What are the Policy Options?

February 4, 2010
12:30 -- 2:00 pm
Ehtisham Ahmad; Pranab Bardhan; James Manor; Dilip Mookherjee; Stephen N. Ndegwa. Opening Remarks: Shenggen Fan. Chairs: Regina Birner and Christian Henning

RSVP to by Friday, January 22, 2010


International Food Policy Research Institute
2033 K Street, NW, Washington, DC
Fourth Floor Conference Facility

A policy panel discussion in conjunction with the IFPRI-University of Kiel research workshop, “Inside the black box: The political economy of local governments and their role in rural development”


Decentralization, by “bringing government closer to the people,” has a unique potential to improve the provision of public services, such as water, health, education, and agricultural extension, particularly in rural areas, which have long been neglected by central governments. Improving these services is crucial to reaching the Millennium Development Goals.

Decentralization is widespread: 80 percent of all developing countries have undergone some type of decentralization in recent decades. However, the results have been rather mixed, due to problems such as capacity constraints and the capture of benefits by local elites. Hence, there is still a need to find out how the potential of decentralization can be used more effectively to improve the provision of rural services, especially for the poor and for women.

This panel discussion brings together five of the world’s leading experts on decentralization. They will discuss the policy lessons that can be derived from recent research on: how to determine the appropriate level of decentralization for different types of rural services; how to strengthen the capacity of local governments to raise their own revenues; which strategies can overcome local elite capture; whether quotas for women and marginalized groups can make rural service provision more inclusive; how to use the potential of community-based organizations for decentralized service provision; and how to overcome the political obstacles that prevent effective decentralization reforms.

Ehtisham Ahmad is a Senior Visiting Fellow at the Asia Research Centre, London School of Economics and Political Science.

Pranab Bardhan is Professor of Economics at the University of California, Berkeley.

Dilip Mookherjee is Professor of Economics at Boston University.

James Manor is Emeka Anyaoku Professor at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London.

Stephen N. Ndegwa is a Lead Specialist for Public Sector Governance at the World Bank.

Shenggen Fan is Director General of the International Food Policy Research Institute.

Regina Birner is a Senior Research Fellow in the Development Strategy and Governance division of the International Food Policy Research Institute.

Christian Henning is Professor of Agricultural Policy at the University of Kiel, Germany.

The panel discussion is part of a two-day research workshop entitled “Inside the black box: The political economy of local governments and their role in rural development,” organized jointly by IFPRI and the University of Kiel, Germany.

More information can be found on the workshop blog at

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