No.127 Deciphering Capacity Development through the Lenses of "Pockets of Effectiveness" - A Case of Innovative Turnaround of the Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority, Cambodia -

  • #Working Papers

This paper intends to identify the process of capacity development for urban water supply and management of public service organizations by examining the case of the innovative transformation of the Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority (PPWSA) of Cambodia. Reflecting on the analytical lenses of "pockets of effectiveness," this paper explores the dynamics of "relational spaces" in which functional and internal factors of the organization proactively interact with political and contextual factors in the initial process of turnaround.

While efforts for developing sustainable capacity for public sector performance often encounter difficulties due to the insufficient understanding of the political contexts and a lack of a coherent strategy especially in aid-dependent countries, a huge amount of foregoing research focuses on distilling cross-country lessons from intervention failures and looks for macro strategies. In contrast, research into "pockets of effectiveness" sheds insightful light on anatomizing factors of successful public sector organizations that can compensate for their contextual constraints.

The case analysis presents the findings regarding the conditions to ignite initial change: a top-down political intention of reform for visible change, the assignment of a capable technical manager with strong communication skills, and political "rapport" to secure support and to protect from interference. Specific findings imply mutually reinforcing three patterns of interconnected factors or tight coupling in the "relational spaces," which emerge in the process of improving capacity for urban water service with high "specificity" of targets and outcome. Tight coupling includes those between service qualities and public trust, positive organizational culture and operational autonomy, and political legitimacy and catalytic role of international aid.

Keywords: Cambodia, access to safe water, public service reform, capacity development, incentive structure, social accountability

Kyoko Kuwajima
Date of issuance
March 2016
Related areas
  • #Asia
  • #Water Resources
  • #Urban / Regional Development
Research area
Development Cooperation Strategies
Research project