Bridging Political Economy Analysis and Critical Institutionalism: An Approach to Help Analyse Institutional Change for Rural Water Services

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"This paper argues that approaches to understanding local institutions for natural resource management based on 'critical institutionalism', which emphasises the importance of improvisation and adaptation across different scales, can be placed within broader political economy analysis frameworks for assessing challenges in public services delivery from national to local levels. The paper uses such an extended political economy analysis approach to understand the role of the international NGO WaterAid and its partners in Mali in relation to institutions for financing rural water services, drawing on collaborative research undertaken in 2010 and 2011. The case study shows that WaterAid’s approach can be understood through elements of both mainstream and critical institutionalist thinking. At local government level, WaterAid primarily promotes formal institutional arrangements, which exhibit the challenge of 'reforms as signals', where institutional reforms appear to happen but lack the intended function. However, the work of WaterAid’s partners at community level supports processes of 'institutional bricolage' through which they try to gradually work with local actors to find ways of ‘best fit’ for financing rural water services which adapt existing local practices into new arrangements."
institutional analysis, institutional change