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Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
January 2014
Print publication year:
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Creative Commons:
Creative Common License - CC Creative Common License - BY Creative Common License - NC Creative Common License - ND
This content is Open Access and distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0

Book description

Jacqueline Best argues that the 1990s changes in IMF, World Bank and donor policies, towards what some have called the 'Post-Washington Consensus,' were driven by an erosion of expert authority and an increasing preoccupation with policy failure. Failures such as the Asian financial crisis and the decades of despair in sub-Saharan Africa led these institutions to develop governance strategies designed to avoid failure: fostering country ownership, developing global standards, managing risk and vulnerability and measuring results. In contrast to the structural adjustment era when policymakers were confident in their solutions, this is an era of provisional governance, in which key actors are aware of the possibility of failure even as they seek to inoculate themselves against it. Best considers the implications of this shift, asking if it is a positive change and whether it is sustainable. This title is available as Open Access on Cambridge Books Online and via Knowledge Unlatched.


‘Supremely over-confident in the 1980s and 1990s, international financial institutions have now recognized some of the limits of their capacity to effect change in an uncertain world. But, if structural adjustment has failed, what comes afterwards? In a brilliant analysis, Jacqueline Best shows us how the IFIs have invented a new form of ‘provisional governance’: failure is now anticipated, the authority of experts is known to be fragile, and government has become something of an experiment.’

Andrew Barry - University College London

‘Governing Failure is a fascinating exploration of the dynamics of expertise, authority, and power in international development institutions and the paradoxes that result. Expertise generates authority, which is undermined by perceived failure resulting from contingency. Governance therefore becomes more provisional, but if it is cautious rather than experimental it ultimately jeopardizes the authority upon which these institutions rely.’

Robert O. Keohane - Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University

‘Drawing on a highly creative and wide-ranging engagement with theory and extensive empirical research, this wonderful new book by Jacqueline Best makes a major contribution to our understanding of how the IMF and World Bank have changed since the structural adjustment era and to theorizing global governance more generally.’

Tony Porter - McMaster University, Canada

‘Best offers a much needed theoretical account of how and why there has been a move to ‘govern failure’ within international organizations. Along the way, Best gives us a powerful framework for understanding the dynamics of global governance in general, and the role of international organizations in particular.’

Ole Jacob Sending - Director of Research, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI)

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Full book PDF
  • Governing Failure - Half title page
    pp i-ii
  • Copyright page
    pp iv-iv
  • Contents
    pp v-v
  • Figures
    pp vi-vi
  • Acknowledgements
    pp vii-viii
  • Abbreviations
    pp ix-x
  • Part I - Understanding how global governance works
    pp 1-42
  • 1 - Introduction
    pp 3-19
  • 2 - A meso-level analysis
    pp 20-42
  • Part II - History
    pp 43-88
  • 3 - What came before
    pp 45-65
  • 4 - Transformations
    pp 66-88
  • Part III - New governance strategies
    pp 89-186
  • 5 - Fostering ownership
    pp 91-114
  • 6 - Developing global standards
    pp 115-138
  • 7 - Managing risk and vulnerability
    pp 139-163
  • 8 - Measuring results
    pp 164-186
  • Part IV - Conclusion
    pp 187-208
  • 9 - The politics of failure and the future of provisional governance
    pp 189-208
  • Endnotes
    pp 209-262
  • Index
    pp 266-276


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