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Decentralization/Devolution: Empower the Disempowered?

Decentralization/Devolution has been pursued in over 80% of developing countries. It has been an important element of the “democratization” that has taken place since the end of the Cold War. Greater emphasis has been placed on citizens as the source of legitimate state authority. There has been a considerable body of research on the impact of decentralization/devolution on poverty reduction, the quality of service delivery and conflict. The empirical evidence presents a mixed picture of the impact of these processes. This places a high premium on careful design of decentralization/devolution, with a particular emphasis on building local capacities. One clear message is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Specific local circumstances are a crucial determinant of the outcomes of such programmes. While decentralization/devolution has a mixed record overall, empirical evidence suggests that there are some areas where it is particularly effective: primary education; hospitals; local roads; markets; water supply and sanitation; and solid waste management.


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