Pathways to Good Governance

A person sits attentively while surrounded by other people in Myanmar.

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Supporting changes in norms and behaviors among local decision‑makers in Myanmar


Pathways to Good Governance is motivated by the question of how to support the adoption of good governance norms by decision‑makers. Trainings are the dominant modality for shifting governance norms in fragile contexts; an estimated US $15 billion is spent annually in aid for such trainings. Yet despite the ubiquity of this programming approach, there are significant empirical and theoretical gaps for explaining if, how, when, and why holding trainings with local decision‑makers lead to changes in norms and behaviors. These normative aspects of good governance are especially important during the ongoing COVID‑19 pandemic, as community decisions to comply with public health measures are driven in part by the extent to which government actions are perceived to be fair, transparent, and trustworthy.

We start to fill these gaps in theory and evidence by examining the case study of Promoting Sustainable Peace and Resiliency (PROSPER), an EU‑funded development program implemented by Mercy Corps in Myanmar’s Kayah State from 2016‑2018, which provided trainings to local and state government officials, ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), political parties, and CSOs. PROSPER was designed and implemented in the wake of Myanmar’s 2015 elections, which were accompanied by a mixture of exuberant and cautious optimism that Myanmar was moving towards a more democratic and economically prosperous future. In the years since, the realities of incremental change have tempered, but not extinguished, hope for continued deepening of democracy. Despite this hopeful note, Myanmar faces an array of complex governance challenges—most notably ongoing ethnic conflicts around the country, the worst of which has evolved into a protracted humanitarian crisis in Rakhine State.

This study was conducted retrospectively during 2019 and uses interviews with program participants, governance actors, and Mercy Corps team members to identify the underlying pathway connecting the good governance trainings to behavior changes by program participants. Using a process-tracing approach to analyze this data, we develop a theory for how normative governance training influence the normative beliefs of governance actors — identifying two intermediate mechanisms: 1) role conceptualization and 2) normative know-how. Next, we examine the different categories of behaviors resulting from an increased internalization of good governance norms — pioneering, supporting, and protecting behaviors.

These findings indicate that donors should make further investments in rigorously evaluating training programs focused on changing the norms and behaviors of decision‑makers. In addition, donors should provide ongoing support for transforming governance norms, rather than focusing solely on single moments, such as elections or political transitions. Donors should continue to support good governance programing throughout the COVID‑19 pandemic and should devote resources to piloting programming that supports and strengthens good governance norms amidst the public health and humanitarian response.