Challenges & Opportunities of Urbanization

Challenges & Opportunities of Urbanization and Social Institutions and Governance: Lessons from Sub-Saharan Africa, 2017-2021


Photo by Nathan Queloz on Unsplash

In 2017, GLD won two large grants. The first grant focused on Challenges and Opportunities of Urbanization. Why do some urban communities provide secure environments, good education, adequate health care, and other factors that promote human development, while others fail to do so? What determines whether or not decision-making is transparent, leaders are accountable, and citizens enjoy good governance? These questions are key for policy makers, development specialists, and others who seek to improve the lives of millions who suffer from violence, poor education, unattended illnesses, and lost opportunities at the hands of corrupt leaders.

The information generated from research on urbanization thus far tends to consider urban areas as monolithic, but we observe great variation in service provision including health, education, and security, as well as citizen-state linkages among communities within the same city across the developing world. We need to identify where these disparities exist and to understand their root causes. This requires a research approach that takes local governance and micro-level variations into account.

The second grant was on Social Institutions and Governance: Lessons from Sub-Saharan Africa. This project aims to develop a unified theory of social institutions to understand how, when, and where they promote good governance and improve daily lives. Efforts to design political institutions and economic policies that promote good governance and development frequently fail and are rarely uniformly successful at the subnational level. This suggests that local norms and rules within societies affect governance and development. However, social institutions – the rules establishing how authority is exercised, actors constrained, and transgressors sanctioned – are poorly measured, insufficiently theorized, and their consequences often overlooked. This study conceptualized and measured social institutions, focusing on the strength, nature and content of the norms and rules governing social interactions. Focusing on gender and ethnic relations, it took a multi-method approach, leveraging surveys, experiments, focus groups and stakeholder interviewers in Kenya, Zambia, and Malawi to examine the links between social institutions and governance. The study yielded important new datasets, allowing researchers to explore theoretical questions of governance and development outcomes, but also aiding policymakers, development specialists and citizens in assessing needs across communities and establishing baselines for measuring change during policy reforms.

Employing highly clustered, large N surveys (~25,000 respondents in total) that are representative at the local level, these studies aimed to explain the local variation in governance and service provision in the context of three urbanizing African countries: Kenya, Malawi, and Zambia. It was a multi-method household survey that formed part of a larger LGPI implementation in Malawi, Zambia, and Kenya in 2019. In addition to the survey, this project also employed Focus Groups to generate social institution-related results.

With Ellen Lust (PI), Adam Harris, Boniface Dulani, Pierre Landry.

Funded by: Forskningsrådet Formas and The Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet)

Status: Completed.

Related Publications:

Kao, Kristen. With Ellen Lust. “Do List Experiments Run as Expected? Examining Implementation Failure in Kenya, Zambia, and Malawi.” Draft available upon request. Presented at the European Political Science Association 2021.

Kao, Kristen. with Carlitz, Ruth; Landry, Pierre; Lust, Ellen, and Lise Rakner. 2017. “Beyond the State: Measuring Governance at the Community Level.” APSA Comparative Democratization Newsletter. 17(2): 26–29. Available here.

Kao, Kristen. With Kate Baldwin and Ellen Lust. “Is Authority Fungible? Legitimacy, Domain Congruence, and the Limits of Power in Africa.” Draft available upon request. Revise and Resubmit at the American Journal of Political Science.

Related Outreach and Presentations:

Organized Panel: “The State and Traditional Governance Nexus: Empirical Evidence from Africa,” APSA, September 28 2021. Participants: Kate Baldwin, Ellen Lust, Lauren MacLean, Peter Van der Windt, Martha Wilfahrt, Natalie Letsa, Soeren Henn, George Ofosu, and Sarah Brierley.

Participated in Panel: “Leveraging Localism: Local Origins, Ethnicity, and Electoral Choice in Malawi” American Political Science Association, Boston, MA, 2018.

Participated in Panel: “On Lineage and Authority: Compliance, Participation and Contributions in Malawi’s Matrilineal and Patrilineal Communities” APSA, Washington, DC, 2019.