How We Work

Each ISS project begins with a question or problem that arises when building an institution or in delivering a service. We first develop a concept paper or research design through conversation with practitioners and scholars. Our staff members then develop interview-based case studies and analytic papers that draw on experiences from several countries.

Interviews help chronicle the steps taken to improve effectiveness or accountability and capture the insights of practitioners, civic groups, and observers.  The interviews enable leaders to learn from each other directly, in their own words. A small fraction of the interviews conducted appear on our website.

Case studies are based on the interviews and trace the steps reformers have taken to try to improve a service, build an institution, or escape a governance trap. They provide quick and engaging overviews of selected experiences around the globe.  The cases are an important part of the ISS idea bank.

Analytic briefs draw on multiple cases and interviews and help to identify “what works" and why.  

Academic research fosters scholarly engagement in the challenges at its core by involving Ph.D. students and researchers from partner countries in more rigorous testing of its case study findings. 

ISS only conducts interviews if it has the informed consent of participants. Interviewees have the option to skip questions, review quotes, and embargo parts of their interviews for release at a future date unless they specifically waive this option.  For more on our research process, visit the Research section of our website.

The ISS Difference

The reform leader is the starting point. A lot of people say that the main challenge in building core government institutions is to get the incentives right. People who are motivated will find a way to make core institutions work.  We say incentives are important but they are not sufficient. The really hard work lies in figuring out how to deploy resources, including staff, to deliver improved services.  Implementation requires political skill as well as technical know-how and management sense.

Operational detail is key. A reform leader who has just taken on a new job has little time to determine how to translate broad principles into action.  ISS tries to share stories about the sequence of practical steps leaders have taken to build institutions or solve strategic problems.

Context is important. One design, one strategy, one innovation does not fit all purposes. Contexts, histories, and the distinctive aptitudes of individuals all shape what is possible. Our analytical briefs contain notes about how the key features of context shape a reform leader’s range of options.  

Information and analysis are our strengths. ISS does not provide tailor-made advice or technical assistance. Other people and programs much better positioned to provide carefully honed recommendations for individual leaders.  We offer an information resource open to all: an idea bank.

Our university base makes independent and creative reflection possible. When there is a problem that reform leaders in many places find especially difficult, we use our university base to harness an array of talents and help come up with proposed solutions.