Making Government Work in Hard Places


Jennifer Widner
Professor of Politics and International Affairs in the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs

Learn from people who have helped build better government in challenging settings around the globe, and develop your own ability to analyze and solve similar problems.

Around the globe, there are public servants and civic leaders who want to create a better future for their fellow citizens. The challenge is how to deliver—how to create new practices, build new institutions, implement new policies, and transform incentives to sustain transformation and achieve sustainability.

This course is about the “hows” of generating institutional change in hard places. Each week we focus on a different kind of challenge. You will read a case study, examine a problem in detail, help create a “solutions" toolkit, and then apply these insights to a second case.

The course introduces concepts and insights from the applied political economy and the science of delivery. Topics include:

  • Reducing delay, error, and diversion of funds in citizen services
  • Using citizen monitoring and community-driven projects to improve services in rural areas
  • Preventing conflicts of interest or self-dealing from blocking institutional reform; building trust and community and changing public expectations
  • Overcoming capacity traps (what to do when brain drain, political turbulence, or other problems de-skill government)
  • Facilitating coordination at the cabinet level
  • Developing a strategy and the incentives to sustain change.

Drawn from actual experience around the world, each case starts with the problems a reform leader faced and traces the steps taken to address these. You will have a chance to assess the process and decide whether the solutions might work in your own context, as well as offer new proposals.

Through quizzes and open response assignments, you will be able to share ideas with others and practice what you have learned.

You will learn: 

  • A conceptual vocabulary to help identify and analyze obstacles to building better government
  • A solutions tool-kit for solving several common yet difficult problems
  • Familiarity with some important contemporary reform leaders, their work, and their ideas
  • An introduction to some basic skills, including streamlining a process, project-management, and strategy development

Course Status


What Learners Say

"Amazing course. It is a bridge between the theory and the practice when it comes to public administration. Great use of case studies." -Evan 

"Excellent to government officers involved in staff change management and institutional transformation." -Daniel 

"Very relevant and practical teaching content method. Despite working in State Government for 8 years, I have learnt so much from this course that will be beneficial and a value add to my role in Government." -Moji

"Course was perfect. Prof. Widner extraordinary. Teaching stuff helpfull. Very good organization, I really did enjoy it. System and organization remind me German attention to detail. … I can say I was very happy to take part on this course. Well done, good job. Congratulations to all members of your team."