Managing Public Sector Decentralization in Developing Countries: Moving Beyond Conventional Recipes

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Decentralization has become a nearly universal feature of public sector reform in developing countries, but it has unevenly met the often considerable and diverse expectations placed on it. This paper contends that the popular reform has been framed and assessed in standardized—yet disjointed and incomplete—ways that do not offer a suitably robust basis for its effective application. Decentralization is a complex process that is pursued in variable environments, and superficial commonalities that suggest routine remedies are often overwhelmed by great heterogeneity in how it is perceived and unfolds in context. The drivers of diversity—the country setting, national and local political and bureaucratic dynamics, available resources and capacities, and in some cases the role of aid agencies, among others—shape what is intended and what is feasible relative to normative goals. Deeper attention to these factors can inform possibilities for more appropriate design and implementation. This paper discusses basic elements of the persistent decentralization challenge and outlines a preliminary approach to broaden contextual analysis and to define pragmatic ways to tap its potential more productively.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)250-262
Number of pages13
JournalPublic Administration and Development
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2015


  • decentralization
  • implementation
  • local governance
  • local public management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Development
  • Public Administration


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