On the Political Economy of Measuring State Capacity and Governance: Mapping Transnational Approaches and their Production

ESID project pictureThe design of rules and regulations, the effectiveness of policies and the competences of public bodies play a crucial role in the functioning of states and economies.

As ‘governance matters’, after two decades of research on governance quality as a determinant of state capacity, the current consensus is that ‘good’ governance is a prerequisite for development. Moreover, as defined by the Post-2015 Development Agenda, it is assessed to constitute a desirable global development goal in its own right.

Stemming from this increased relevance and demand for global reach and meaningfulness of ‘good’ governance, there is a need for common definitions as well as for framing and monitoring progress towards its achievement.

Well-functioning and ‘neutral’ measurement processes, assessment tools and routines must, hence, be boosted to perform well in different systemic environments. Producing such encompassing, future-oriented measurement instruments requires assessing thoroughly how, and how well, existing definitions and operationalisation capture governance quality; which aspects they measure; what sort of methodologies they apply; and how robust these are.

Research Team

  • David Hulme (Project Associate, CEO/ESID and University of Manchester)
  • Debora Valentina Malito (Collaborating Researcher, GGP/RSCAS/EUI)
  • Antonio Savoia (Lead Project Researcher, ESID and University of Manchester)
  • Gaby Umbach (Project Associate, Directing GGP Part, GGP/RSCAS/EUI)


Given the immediate relevance of ‘good’ governance for both the academic and the policy debate of the Post-2015 and Post-2030 Development Agendas, the project takes the problematic state of measuring governance and state capacity as its starting point.

It maps the political economy of governance and state capacity measures by systematically analysing who rates state capacity and governance where, how, what for, and funded by whom. It moreover assesses the differences between and the performance of the different measures. This analysis will be a particularly innovative contribution to the research on state effectiveness and governance, in which space so far matters little.

Its research improves the current understanding of measurement tools and pays particular attention to state effectiveness issues. It analyses existing measures according to four key dimensions:

  • Who: Producers and development process of measures;
  • Where and how: Geographical location and governance level of their development and production;
  • What for: Purpose and use of the measurement tools; and
  • Funded by whom: Funders of the production of measures.


First, the project will produce an innovative cross-sectional dataset on the political economy of state capacity and governance indicators. It will map the type of producer (donor, IFIs, commercial sector, academia and NGOs); the type of funder financing the production of governance measures (governments, philanthropists, NGOs, private corporations); the governance level at which measures are produced; the production process; and the geographical location (both of production and application) of a wide range of governance measures. This innovative tool will be of outmost relevance for several target groups such as civil society actors seeking to participate in related governance processes; policy-makers engaged in development processes and governance reforms; and academics involved in governance and development studies.

Second, the project’s quantitative research will strengthen the development of more targeted state capacity and governance metrics. It will scrutinise systematic differences in measures and their production processes according to different types of producers and funders, different regions, or governance levels. It will result in a new innovative tool to analyse and predict the potential of different measures. At the more abstract level, the global governance debate will be informed by this empirical evidence on the politics of global governance through indicators providing important empirical evidence for questions of scale.

Third, the project’s qualitative analysis will generate insight into key definitions of governance and state capacity used in the measures analysed. It will provide an overview on the understanding of the two phenomena; on relevant aspects of contextualisation; and potential issues of translation into and adaptation within different political systems. It will give practitioners core information at hand they require for the preparation of tailor-made policy and reform proposals for their respective constituencies. Moreover, key points of access and capacity-building requirements will be identified. By identifying potential implementation flaws, the project will enable practitioners and researchers alike to learn ahead of crisis and failure.


Planned publications include blogs, an ESID working paper, an ESID briefing paper and submission to a peer-review journal.


Project and Funding Partner