ISS Events

Events Archive

Managing Public Finances
Country Perspectives and External Support in a Changing Landscape

Thursday, May 9, 2019 

8:30 AM - 3:00 PM

Washington, DC


Organized by New York University (NYU), Princeton University, and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI).

This event will explore emerging ideas, evidence, and debates on the role of public financial management (PFM) in low- and middle-income countries, the persistent challenges of implementing it effectively, and evolving approaches to external support for PFM reform. Particular emphasis is on the potential benefits of moving beyond PFM's conventional technical orientation by linking it to broader public sector priorities and by seeking context-specific solutions to common problems.

Three related projects—an initiative on the broader PFM agenda (NYU), field-based case studies of successful institutional reform (Princeton), and an initiative on PFM and service delivery (ODI)—will report their preliminary findings for discussion in a set of panels. The goal is to advance a shared understanding about future directions and priorities in managing public finances. 

Read the ISS case studies here:

Attendance is by invitation only. If you would like to attend please contact [email protected].

A livestream of the day's events will be offered through the following link: PFM Symposium 2019 Livestream


The organizers gratefully acknowledge the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


Driving Change, Securing Tenure: Innovations in Land & Property Rights

May 31-June 1, 2017
New America in Washington, D.C.

Princeton University’s Innovations for Successful Societies, in partnership with New America’s Future of Property Rights initiative and the Omidyar Network held a two-day conference on innovations in land formalization and tenure security on May 31-June 1, 2017.

Driving Change, Securing Tenure presented seven case studies by ISS researchers Leon Schreiber and Maya Gainer under the direction of Pallavi Nuka and Jennifer Widner. The cases profiled recent initiatives to strengthen tenure security and reform land registration systems in seven countries: South AfricaCanadaJamaica, Kyrgyzstan, Mozambique, Australia and Tanzania. The event brought together change-makers featured in the case studies, along with property rights advocates and researchers from ISS.

Day 1, featured TED-style presentations from the case protagonists—the people who actually led the reforms—as well as an expert panel discussion about new practices and technologies in land and property rights. Day 2, Thursday, June 1, brought together a group of educators and practitioners to build a global network around property rights case teaching and development.

The talks, panels and case studies discussed are available here.


Friday, November 11, 2016
Prospect House Library

Responding to the 2014-2015 Ebola Outbreak
Case Study Review Workshop

During the past year, Innovations for Successful Societies has worked with Princeton University’s Grand Challenges Program and Global Health Delivery to produce a suite of Harvard Business School-style teaching case studies focused on the 2014 West Africa Ebola Outbreak. Each case addresses a different public management challenge. This workshop will provide an opportunity to review the series and collect feedback before publication. Agenda available here.

Note: Only 10 seats available. To sign up please email [email protected].

Sponsors: Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies  and the Princeton Environmental Institute's Health Grand Challenges program through the Center for Health and Wellbeing.


Monday, October 17, 2016

Robertson Hall, Bowl 016

Transforming Judiciaries in the Global South

Speaker: The Honorable Willy Mutunga, Former Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Kenya

Join Us


June 1 - June 3, 2016

Leading Insitutional Reform in Africa

Innovations for Successful Societies, Sciences Po-Paris School of International Affairs, and the French Development Agency (AFD)

Speakers: Sarah Botton (AFD), Joh Heilbrunn (Colorado School of Mines), Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan (LASDEL), Leonardo Villalon (University of Florida), Marco Larizza (World Bank), Edouard al-Dahdah (World Bank), Jennifer Widner (Princeton University), Leonard Wantchekon (Princeton University), Sanata Sy-Sahande (Princeton University), Joan Ricart-Huguet (Princeton University)

This 1.5 day workshop provided an opportunity to highlight series of case studies that were conducted in French speaking countries: Morocco, Tunisia, Senegal and Benin. Researchers from Princeton-ISS and Sciences Po’s School of Public and International Affairs collaborated in developing these cases. The workshop touched on some of the these that run across the case studies: colonial legacies and reform processes, partnerships between the private sector and government, issues of scaling up pockets of effectiveness in the civil service.

Sponsor: Agence Française de Développement

March 31 - April 1, 2016

Innovations in Public Management

Keynote Address: Governor of Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo 

Panels will focus on bureaucratic performance, behavioral insights, technology, management in education, and reflections on what we have learned about leading innovations. Open to faculty, students and fellows. Please email [email protected] if interested in attending.

March 15 – March 16, 2016

Managing Cabinet Decision Making in Unity Governments

This workshop introduces a new ISS-US Institute of Peace study of practices that improve governance or “steering capacity” in power- sharing governments. This event convenes diplomats, mediators, and researchers who work with and advise cabinet members and staff. The sessions are in Washington and New York. Please email [email protected] if interested in attending.

February 11 – February 12, 2016

Qualitative Methods Workshop

Speakers: Andrew Bennett, Melani Cammett, Barry Weingast, Margaret Levi, Nancy Cartwright, Andy Moravcsik, Jennifer Widner, Michael Woolcock, and Caitlin Trasande

The development policy community uses case studies as analytical tools. This workshop focuses on case selection, within case process tracing, and issues of generalizability across cases. Attendance by invitation only.

February 9, 2016

The Potential and Challenges of Customer Feedback in the Public Sector: A Case of Pakistan

Zubair Bhatti, MPP '04, Senior Public Sector Management Specialist, World Bank

Zubair Bhatti will discuss the impact of Pakistan's Citizen Feedback Monitoring Program (CFMP), which uses ordinary cell phones to fight petty corruption, improve service delivery and build trust in the state. Replicated in Albania and Romania, this proactive system can be implemented across a range of public sector contexts at relatively low cost. ISS recently published a case study on the CFMP

Zubair K. Bhatti is a Senior Public Sector Management Specialist at the World Bank, working on local governance, performance management, service delivery, civil service, and citizen engagement reforms. Before joining the Bank, he served in the Pakistan administrative service for ten years as assistant commissioner, additional secretary and district coordination officer. He is the co-author of "Logged On: Smart Government Solutions from South Asia". He holds a Masters in Public Policy from Princeton University, USA, and a Masters in Business Administration from Imperial College, UK.

Sponsor: Woodrow Wilson School, Office of Public Affairs and Communications 


Case Study Writing Workshop

Workshop organizers: Innovations for Successful Societies and Paris School of International Affairs, Sciences Po. Sponsored by Agence Française de Développement (AFD)

June 3-6, 2015

Case studies function as a vital tool for sharing insight about how leaders have implemented successful institutional and policy reforms. To illustrate how case study research can generate new ideas about the process of policy implementation in developing countries, ISS co-hosted a 2.5-day workshop with Sciences Po, bringing together nearly 30 practitioners and academics. Following an introduction to the political economy concepts used in case study research and discussions of selected ISS case studies, participants worked in small groups to conduct preliminary case study research, including development of pre-trip memos, possible interview contacts, and interview scripts. Led by ISS Director, Professor Jennifer Widner, the workshop represents the launch of a new collaboration between ISS, Sciences Po, and AFD on a series of case studies that highlight the challenges of building institutions and implementing policies in developing countries. 

Participants in the Writing Case Studies Workshop at Bobst Hall, Princeton University. (Back row, L to R: Rouba Beydoun, Alain Henry, Laura Skoet, Blair Cameron, Hela Yousfi, Richard Balme. Middle row: Tristan Driesbach, Stefanie Chan, Maya Gainer, Sarah Botton, Lou Perpes. Front row: Pallavi Nuka, Robert Joyce, Khady Thiam, Natalie Wenkers, Jennifer Widner)


Public Norms & Government Performance Conference

Conference Sponsors: Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies & Innovations for Successful Societies

March 6, 2015

The goal of this conference was to help develop an agenda for interdisciplinary comparative research on ways to change expectations or behaviors that too often trap people in poverty or limit states' capacity to build effective and accountable government. 

Keynote Address given by Karla Hoff, author of the 2015 World Development Report

Speakers included: Haki Abazi, Saguato Datta, Jeffrey Hammer, Elizabeth Linos, Bo Rothstein, Alan Rousso, Steven Van de Walle, and Dieter Zinnbauer. 

For video footage of the event, visit the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies site. 



Supporting the Center of Government in Post-Conflict Countries

Workshop Sponsors:
United Nations Development Programme, Bureau for Policy and Programme Support
Innovations for Successful Societies

November 7th, 2014

“Center of government” refers to the institution or group of institutions that provide direct support to the chief executive (president or prime minister) in leading the management of government. The center of government can include the “government office,” the “cabinet office,” the “office of the prime minister or president,” the “chancellery” or equivalent. Centers of government in well-functioning states typically help senior decision makers manage and monitor executive functions, by ensuring priorities are met, by screening policy documents for quality (including legal and financial review, reasoning and completeness, stakeholder consultation), and by coordinating across ministries. They may also play central roles in facilitating political liaison with parliamentary and extra-parliamentary opposition, and supporting broader leadership functions, including external communication, international diplomacy, crisis management and strategy development. When a center of government fails to perform well, senior decision makers spend excessive time on administrative matters, expenditures are out of line with budgets, initiatives requiring cooperation among departments fail, and other governmental institutions—especially legislatures—may be unable to do their jobs effectively.


Session One Choosing Between Center of Government Functions

What does evidence/experience/logic tell us about which functions a government can develop most effectively in the aftermath of conflict? Specifically, what limits or opportunities are there on the functions that a center of government can develop in each of the following scenarios?

  • Government/cabinet power is shared among representatives of former armed factions/ political parties.
  • No formal power-sharing agreement, but cabinet ministers represent different coalition partners and cabinet instability is high.
  • Institutional capacity is low; the pool of trained public servants is small.
  • Institutional capacity is low; the talent pool exists but mandates are contested/rules interfere with effective ministry performance.
  • Political parties are weak and highly personalist, or the real source of power lies outside political parties.
  • Political parties are strong, but patronage is the currency of power.

Session Two: Ensuring Operational Effectiveness at the Center of Government

  • What types of practices, organizational structures, or other interventions are most helpful to support center of government delivery and coordination in the aftermath of conflict?
  • How can the center of government provide a reliable function when ministries are under capacitated?
  • What is the role of the center of government in ensuring effective inter-ministerial communication and resolving inter-ministerial or departmental conflict?
  • How can decision makers and centre of government institutions ensure that crisis management does not displace the time needed to focus on its medium-term policy priorities?

Session Three: Political Liasing Through Center of Government

Often little attention goes to political liaison functions and communication. Donor agencies or national partners may feel less comfortable in assisting the creation of these functions than is supporting creation of cabinet manuals or delivery units.

  • How important in the development of these functions in conflict-affected and fragile states?
  • Are there examples of effective development of these functions in these types of settings? In these instances, what roles have donors played, if any?

Lunch Session

We will ask tables to choose a question from this list (or an expanded menu participants suggest) and report back to the group.

  1. When parties alternate in government, incumbents often transfer little knowledge about running the center of government or about work-in-progress within ministries to successors. Which countries have developed helpful norms or practices to ensure effective transitions? [ISS case study: Chile’s transition norms]
  2. How influential are colonial or other legacies on the functioning of centres of government? Do the functions and capacities of centers of government vary in systematic ways under civil law systems versus common law systems?
  3. The activities of finance ministries and the cabinet office often interact, and ministries of finance usually have more capacity than other parts of government. Yet finance ministries also view policy choices and priorities through a particular lens that may cause them to undervalue some types of initiatives. What kinds of challenges have arisen in the relationship between these institutions in conflict-affected and fragile states? Are these particular to these settings or are these challenges more general? Are there countries that have built especially constructive working relationships between these two institutions?
  4. The donor community often promotes a similar group of far-reaching, comprehensive governance reforms in developing countries.  Many of these directly affect the centre of government.  The World Bank and others, such as Matthew Andrews from Kennedy School, have drawn attention to persistent failures in exporting best practices from developed to developing countries, advocating instead a contextually-sensitive, incremental, best-fit approach. For fragile or post-conflict states, which types of reform programs commonly promoted by donors are likely to overwhelm decision-making systems, local capacity and existing delivery systems?

Session Three: Sequencing of Support to Centers of Government

Does sequencing matter? In conflict-affected and fragile states, is it important to strengthen some kinds of center of government functions before others? Do “technical” interventions—computer systems, cabinet manuals—necessarily take priority over other measures? What kinds of evidence do we have to support our claims? [ISS Ghana case study] [ISS Rwanda case study]

Wrap Up

Feedback/summaries from rapporteurs, participants indicate points to highlight, issues that merit further investigation or addition to the agenda.

Improving Judicial Sector Performance in the Balkans

Haki Abazi, Rockefeller Brothers Fund

October 1, 2014

Scholars and policy makers often talk about judicial independence as a form of "horizontal accountability." Even where constitutions provide for formal judicial independence, courts sometimes lack capacity, perform poorly, or remain beholden to political factions, oligarchs, or patronage networks, however. Haki Abazi will speak about civil society initiatives to address these problems.

Haki Abazi is the program director for the Western Balkans portion of the RBF's Pivotal Place program. Prior to joining the Rockefeller Brothers Fund in 2007, Mr. Abazi served as director of the Kosovo office for East West Management Institute, Inc. Mr. Abazi developed and implemented a wide range of programs addressing critical issues in Kosovo during the transition period. He also has played an important role in the development of the civil society in the region. Mr. Abazi has more than nine years of experience in designing and managing development programs in Kosovo, Serbia, Montenegro, Afghanistan, and Indonesia. These programs were designed to support overall development and increase the level of participation of citizens in the decision-making processes.



The Indiana Story

Mitch Daniels, Jr. Former Governor of the State of Indiana and President-Elect of Purdue University

October 2012

At an event co-sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson School and Innovations for Successful Societies, Daniels discussed the reforms he spearheaded in Indiana to improve service delivery, reduce the state’s public workforce, and reduce the state’s overall debt by 40 percent. ISS published a case study about these reforms in 2012.

Mitch Daniels, a 1971 graduate of Princeton University, served as Governor of the State of Indiana from 2008 until 2012. Previously, he had served as the director of the Office of Management and Budget under President George W. Bush, as senior advisor to President Ronald Reagan, and as chief of staff to U.S. Senator Richard Lugar.

A Political Scientist at the World Bank

Joel Hellman, World Bank - Global Center on Conflict, Security and Development (Nairobi)

September 2012

More than 1.5 billion people live in countries afflicted by repeated cycles of conflict and violence. The World Bank has opened a new Global Center on Conflict, Security and Development to support policies and projects aimed at improving the lives of people living in fragile countries. One of its aims is to build a community of practice to increase knowledge-sharing on development issues confronting fragile and conflict-affected countries. Princeton’s Innovations for Successful Societies is part of this community.

Joel Hellman is Director of the World Bank's new Global Center on Conflict, Security and Development (Nairobi). He was previously the Manager for the Governance and Public Sector Group in the South Asia Region. Before that he served as Governance Adviser for the Indonesia Country Team based in Jakarta, where he has spearheaded efforts to integrate governance and public sector reform issues into the Bank's entire country program. Dr. Hellman joined the Bank in 2000 as a Lead Specialist in the Public Sector Group in the Europe and Central Asia region. Before joining the World Bank, Dr. Hellman was Senior Political Counselor in the Office of the Chief Economist at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and an editor of the EBRD’s Transition Report. Prior to the EBRD, he was an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Harvard University and Columbia University. He received his Ph.D. in Political Science from Columbia University and an M.Phil. degree from the University of Oxford. Dr. Hellman is regarded as a leading expert in public sector reform and political economy within and outside the World Bank.

Building Government Accountability and Leading Reform

September 20-21, 2012

Jean-Paul Faguet, Reader at the London School of Economics, gave a speech about on his book about why some local governments in Bolivia perform better than others.

Welcome, Cecilia E. Rouse, Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School, and Jennifer Widner, Director, ISS, on the goals of the meeting

Session 1: Public Sector Turnarounds/Pockets of Effectiveness:

Moderator Jorge de los Santos, Ed Campos (World Bank Institute); Jennifer Widner for ISS; Harry Garnett (formerly Lead Public Sector Management Specialist in the Africa Region of the World Bank). Discussant: Chuck Cameron, Professor of Politics & International Affairs

Session 2: Capability Traps

Moderator Jennifer Widner,Matt Andrews, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University; Michael Woolcock, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
Discussants: Carles Boix, Professor of Politics & International Affairs; John Waterbury, former president of the American University of Beirut and affiliated professor at the Woodrow Wilson School

Panel on Related Research: Jennifer Widner, Jacob Shapiro, Professor of Politics & International Affairs, and Jean-Paul Faguet, Reader, London School of Economics

Session 3: Cities and State Performance

Moderator, Ed Campos. David Stasavage, Professor of Politics and Chair of the Politics Department, New York University; Laura Bacon, Associate Director ISS, Brandon Fuller, The Urban Project, New York University

Breakout Groups:

  • Center of Government Panel: Improving Cabinet Office Performance
  • Transparency and New Technologies
  • Dampening Election Violence: Political Party Consultation

Panel on Related Research at Princeton University: Miguel Centeno, Professor of Sociology and Chair, Department of Sociology; Andreas Wimmer, Professor of Sociology; Leonard Wantchekon, Professor of Politics

Closing Session
Open Government Partnership—
video and introduction by Nathaniel Heller, Managing Director, Global Integrity

Closing RemarksJennifer Widner, and Mark Beissinger, Director, Princeton Institute for International & Regional Studies