A governance practitioner’s notebook: Alternative ideas and approaches

Alan Whaites et al.


This resource aims to stimulate thinking and debate. It provides briefings by a wide range of experts on politics, public sector reform and stakeholder engagement. The book charts the evolution of donor thinking and practice, highlighting current challenges and offering insights into new ways of working. It stresses the golden rule that supporting governance reform is primarily about laying aside preconceptions and listening to local counterparts. It highlights the need to remain innovative and inquisitive.

Each section introduces both technical issues and major areas of debate, providing ideas for future development support to institutional reform:

  • Thinking and working politically: This section asks why it is important to deliver politically smart development programming and how it can be achieved. The authors call for fundamental change to donors’ organisational practices.
  • Tackling public sector reform: The authors argue that public sector reform is about changing behaviour within institutions. They call for a more humble approach that puts locally identified problems at the centre of programming and adopts an iterative and adaptive method to reform.
  • Engaging with stakeholders: The authors call on providers to support not just developing country governments, but developing country societies. To do this effectively, the authors suggest: opening up the design of governance programming to a wider set of local stakeholders to ensure relevance and avoid doing harm; looking for stakeholders that can act as change agents; providing greater support for the media; protecting civil society space; and tackling collective action problems to enable more effective public service delivery.

The introductory memo offers an historical overview of governance thinking within international development. Throughout there are ‘notes to self’ from a fictional governance adviser.


Whaites et al. (2015). A Governance Practitioner’s Notebook: Alternative Ideas and Approaches. Paris: OECD. http://www.oecd.org/dac/governance-peace/governance/ governance-practitioners-notebook.htm