Social Institutions and Governance

This project aims to develop a unified theory of social institutions in order 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 -- or the rules establishing how authority is exercised, actors constrained, and transgressors sanctioned -- are poorly measured, insufficiently theorized, and their consequences often overlooked. This study will conceptualize and measure social institutions, focusing on the strength, nature and content of the norms and rules governing social interactions. Focusing on social institutions governing gender and ethnic relations, it takes a multi-method approach, leveraging surveys, experiments, focus groups and stakeholder interviewers in Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, and Zambia (data collection in one country per year 2016-2019) to examine the links between social institutions and governance. The study will yield important new datasets that not only allow researchers to examine theoretical questions regarding governance and development outcomes, but also aids policymakers, development specialists and citizens in assessing needs across communities, establishing baselines for measuring change during policy reforms.

Urbanisation project

In 2017 GLD will start a new project on Urbanisation in Sub-Saharan Africa thanks to generous support from the Swedish Research Council Formas. 


Rapid and unplanned urban growth creates significant governance challenges, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is urbanizing at a faster rate than any other region of the world. Unplanned or inadequately managed urban expansion leads to pollution and environmental degradation, together with unsustainable production and consumption patterns. It also creates inequalities when the necessary infrastructure is not developed or when policies are not implemented to ensure that the benefits of city life are shared equally; urban areas are more unequal than rural areas and hundreds of millions of the world’s urban poor live in sub-standard conditions (UN 2015). As more citizens in African countries move to the cities, the governance of urban areas becomes a key challenge. Yet, our understanding of governance in the face of urbanization is grossly limited and needs further investigation. In the proposed project, we explore governance in the major cities of three rapidly urbanizing, low-income countries: Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia. We argue that the variation in governance and key development outcomes is driven not only by formal government institutions but also social institutions. Through a study of Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia, we examine the role of social institutions in a multi-method inquiry into how rules and norms governing ethnic and gender relations affect governance. We examine the impact of social and political institutions on the quality of governance and service provision, and on the inequalities within these based on traditional power structures of class, ethnicity, gender, and geographic location. To do so, we employ a multi-method approach to forming a broad conceptual framework for studying these relationships including focus groups, computer-assisted surveys with embedded experiments, in-depth case studies, and the Local Governance Performance Index (LGPI), which is a unique, multifaceted, survey-based measure of local governance and development that provides comparative data at the subnational level.