Problem-driven iterative approaches and wider governance reform


Identify evidence which suggests that problem-driven, iterative approaches to public sector reform can deliver more substantial, wider, long-term governance reform.


A problem-driven, iterative approach to institutional reform involves (i) solving defined performance problems through (ii) creating an environment amenable to experimentation, (iii) creating tight feedback loops, and (iv) engaging a broad set of actors. Such an approach has recently been termed as PDIA (problem-driven iterative adaptation), with analysis suggesting that successful institutional reforms have mostly followed PDIA principles, though these may not have been acknowledged explicitly. The PDIA approach is based on solving a particular performance problem in a specific process. It is not clear whether actors who have undertaken PDIA-type institutional reform in one instance will be better able to undertake reform in another instance, or whether they can better address more significant governance reforms (e.g. overhauling civil service or public financial management systems). This helpdesk research report looks to identify material which suggests a link.

Research for this report could not find literature which specifically explores the impact of the adoption of PDIA approach in one instance on substantial, wider, long-term governance reform. Though there are now projects that explicitly include PDIA principles, these projects have not yet been evaluated. There is therefore no conclusive evidence that PDIA is more (or less) conducive to wider governance reforms. However, from past experiences and case studies, it may be possible to infer whether PDIA-type approaches have led, or could lead to, wider governance reform.