Decentralization and Popular Democracy: Governance from Below in Bolivia


Why use Q

This book adopts mixed methods in the aid of a comparative methodology at the municipal level.  It attacks its research questions with a blend of qualitative and quantitative evidence in the hope of combining the advantages of each while avoiding some of the pitfalls of either, and so obtain a higher level of overall methodological rigor than either independently can achieve.

The underlying question is: Why do some local governments perform well and others badly?  This question quickly becomes: How does (democratic) local governance work, and what are the major ways in which it can be deformed?  The empirical strategy I employ combines deep insight into the causes of government quality in nine case studies, including two at the extremes of municipal performance, with national data on all of the country’s municipalities.

In this way, I can approach the elusive goal of an explanation that has both generality and deep understanding.  I can avoid problems of cross-country comparison (e.g. different institutions, political regimes, idiosyncratic shocks) while still benefiting from the formal rigor of large-N studies.  And I can retain a central focus on complex, nuanced explanatory factors – such as accountability, trust, and political entrepreneurialism – that are hard to treat with quantitative data alone.


Case studies

What are case studies for?

The data show that local governments across Bolivia invested in systematically different sectors than central government had before, and did so in ways that were far more responsive to local needs.  How did this come about?  What were the political and social processes at the micro level that led to these aggregate outcomes?  To address these questions I conducted six months of fieldwork in nine municipalities in 1997, followed by an updating round of fieldwork in 2009.  The research was designed as a coherent set of case studies to facilitate comparative analysis.

The nine municipalities had to be broadly representative of Bolivia’s economic, political, geographical, and demographic diversity.  I first used the database to identify a short-list of promising municipalities, then discussed these with a number of knowledgeable observers who had direct experience of those local governments and social contexts, and then selected the final list of ten cases.  With the help of an anthropologist, Armando Godínez, I designed detailed questionnaires for different types of semi-structured and unstructured interviews.  We piloted the questionnaires in Pucarani, which revealed a number of problems with phrasing and question ordering.  We then revised the questionnaires again, discarded the results from the pilot, and headed into the field.

I interviewed over 300 people in a systematic program applied to each municipality, collected maps, budgets, and other local data, and observed local life generally.  The results of this research became nine case studies of different local responses to the same decentralization shock, and the drivers of those different responses.  The two case studies included in the book are the extreme cases of municipal failure and success.  The extremal focus places the systematic differences in decision-making that characterize each in stark relief.  This, in turn, facilitates theorizing about institutional causes, effects and necessary conditions relating to the quality of local government. 

Hence chapters 2 and 3, which telescope in from the national level to examine how governance operates at the municipal and sub-municipal level.  I rely here on qualitative evidence and thick description to analyze the micro-level workings of local government in the worst and best of my case studies, Viacha and Charagua, which represent well the extremes of municipal performance in Bolivia as a whole.  The other 7 cases confirm the analytical insights, and are written up as a “bonus” web-only chapter.