2015 Public Administration Review

Making Development Work: The Quality of Government Approach

Bo Rothstein, Marcus Tannenberg

Institutional development and corruption have been a major concern in international development cooperation for decades. In the report, the authors address the question of why the development agenda has failed, and what donors should do to get it right.

This report aims to summarize the results of research from the Quality of Government approach in terms of its importance for development and aid policy. In the report, Professor Bo Rothstein and Marcus Tannenberg from the University of Gothenburg, synthesize the current knowledge on why some countries have developed into prosperous societies while others have not, and put forward conclusions for development policy.

The report was presented during the seminar Time to reconsider the development agenda and to focus on the enemy number one?


  • After almost twenty-five years of intensive research, it is not possible to identify one single aid policy initiative that can be shown to have had a significant effect on reducing corruption in recipient countries.
  • The standard definition does not specify what counts as “abuse”, resulting in a definition that is empty of substantial content and partly invites relativism in the sense that what can be considered “abuse” in one country is not necessarily considered so in another country and results in a misguided theoretical conception.
  • The authors outline five distinct institutional factors which have been shown to influence the perceived quality of life; a functioning and legitimate system of taxation, meritocracy, universal education, gender equality and ”good auditing”. 


  • If the goal is to improve human well-being, they argue that more focus should be put on improving the quality of institutions that implement public policies. 
  • It would be an advantage if the Swedish development policy, in both practice and official policy documents, makes a distinction between aid for increasing quality of democracy and aid for increasing quality of government.

Bo Rothstein, Professor, Gothenburg University
Marcus Tannenberg, PhD student, Gothenburg University