Escaping capability traps through Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA)

Matt Andrews Lant Pritchett Michael Woolcock
Centre for Global Development

This article proposes an approach to enhancing state capability in developing countries, Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA). 

‘Capability traps’ refer to a dynamic in which governments constantly adopt ‘reforms’ to ensure ongoing flows of external financing and legitimacy yet never actually improve. The authors propose an approach that can help countries escape from the capability trap, Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA). The approach is based on four core principles:

-    PDIA focuses on solving locally nominated and defined problems in performance (as opposed to transplanting preconceived and packaged ‘best practice’ solutions)
-    It seeks to create an authorising environment for decision-making that encourages positive deviance and experimentation (as opposed to designing projects and programmes and then requiring agents to implement them exactly as designed)
-    It embeds this experimentation in tight feedback loops that facilitate rapid experiential learning (as opposed to enduring long lag times in learning from ex post ‘evaluation’)
-    It actively engages broad sets of agents to ensure that reforms are viable, legitimate, relevant, and supportable (as opposed to a narrow set of external experts promoting the top-down diffusion of innovation)