Journal Article

Aiming at the Wrong Targets: The Domestic Consequences of International Efforts to Build Institutions

Date Published

Jun 12, 2017


Mark T. Buntaine, Bradley C. Parks, Benjamin P. Buch


International Studies Quarterly


Buntaine, M. T., Parks, B. C., & Buch, B. P. (2017). Aiming at the Wrong Targets: The Domestic Consequences of International Efforts to Build Institutions. International Studies Quarterly, 61(2), 471-488. doi:10.1093/isq/sqx013

Note: A version of this article was previously published as an AidData Working Paper.


We explain why international development organizations have had so little success building and reforming public sector institutions in developing countries. They often fail despite their apparently strong commitment to achieving measurable results and extraordinary amounts of time, money, and effort. We demonstrate that when donors and lenders make access to financing contingent upon achievement of performance targets, recipient countries tend to choose easy and shallow institutional targets. These targets measure the organization of public sector institutions, rather than their effectiveness at addressing public problems. Such targets provide countries with low-cost opportunities to signal commitment to institution-building to international development organizations. We demonstrate the explanatory and predictive power of our argument in the context of a sector of World Bank lending—environment and natural resource management—that focuses heavily on improving public sector institutions.

Featured Authors

Mark Buntaine

Mark Buntaine

Assistant Professor at the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management and the Department of Political Science at the University of California at Santa Barbara

Bradley C. Parks

Bradley C. Parks

Executive Director

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