Skip to main content
Log in

Decentralization: Conceptualization and measurement

  • Research Forum: Decentralization
  • Published:
Studies in Comparative International Development Aims and scope Submit manuscript

Abstract

Decentralized government institutions are doing more of the work of government than ever before, but there is little agreement about 1) what decentralization means, or 2) how it should be measured. To overcome this confusion, this article builds on standard definitions of decentralization that include three core dimensions: fiscal, administrative, and political. The article offers an empirical test of that definition using factor analysis of data from 1996 for sixty-eight countries. Factor analysis confirms these three core dimensions and generates a score for each case in each dimension, allowing countries to be measured according to their type and degree of decentralization. In future work, these scores can be used for hypothesis testing about the causes and effects of decentralization on important social outcomes. This exercise demonstrates that conceptual confusion need not hamper research when empirical tests can help verify conceptual categories.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others

References

  • Afonso, Jose Roberto Rodrigues. 1996. “Descentralizar e Depois Estabilizar: A Complexa Experiencia Brasileira.”Revista do BNDES 3, 5: 31–62.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ahmad, Ehtisham. 1996.Financing Decentralized Expenditures: An International Comparison of Grants. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.

    Google Scholar 

  • Berger, Suzanne. 1983.Organizing Interests in Western Europe: Pluralism, Corporatism, and the Transformation of Politics. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bird, R.M. 1993. “Threading the Fiscal Labyrinth: Some Issues in Fiscal Decentralization.”National Tax Journal 46 (June). 0

    Google Scholar 

  • Bollen, Kenneth A. 1989.Structural Equation Models with Latent Variables. New York: John Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brady, Henry. 1990. “Traits versus Issues: Factor versus Ideal Point Analysis of Candidate Thermometer Readings.”Political Analysis 2: 97–129.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Byskov, Steen. 2001.Measuring the Levels of Decentralization: The Strengths and Weaknesses of the Government Finance Statistics World Bank, 2001 [cited 5/27/2002]. http://www1.worldbank.org/publicsector/decentralization/decent.doc.

  • Cheema, G. Shabbir and Dennis A. Rondinelli. 1983. “Implementing Decentralization Policies: An Introduction.” Eds. G.S. Cheema and D.A. Rondinelli. Beverly Hills: Sage Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  • CIA World Factbook <http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/indexgeo.html>

  • — 1997.Administrative Decentralization: A New Framework for Improved Governance, Accountability, and Performance. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Institute for International Development.

    Google Scholar 

  • Collier, David and Robert Adcock. 1999. “Democracy and Dichotomies: A Pragmatic Approach to Choices about Concepts.”Annual Review of Political Science 2: 537–563.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Crook, Richard C. and James Manor. 1998.Democracy and Decentralization in South Asia and West Africa: Participation, Accountability, and Performance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Database of Political Institutions <http://paradocs.pols.columbia.edu/datavine/BrowseFrameSet.jsp?dsetID=100>

  • Fox, Jonathan and Josefina Aranda. 1996. “Decentralization and Rural Development in Mexico: Community Participation in Oaxaca’s Municipal Funds Program.”Monograph Series 42. San Diego: Center for U.S.-Mexico Studies, University of California at San Diego.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fukasaku, K. and Ricardo Hausmann. 1998.Democracy, Decentralization, and Deficits in Latin America. Washington, D.C.: The Inter-American Development Bank.

    Google Scholar 

  • Grodzins, Morton. 1960. “American Political Parties and the American Political System.”Western Political Quarterly XIII 4: 974–98.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Huntington, Samuel P. 1968.Political Order in Changing Societies. New Haven: Yale University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • International Monetary Fund (IMF). 2000.Government Finance Statistics Handbook. Washington, D.C.: IMF.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kim, Jae-On and Charles W. Mueller. 1978.Introduction to Factor Analysis: What It Is and How To Do It. Vol 13,Quantitative Applications in the Social Sciences. Beverly Hills: Sage Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lakoff, George. 1987.Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal About the Mind. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Leonard, David K. and Dale Rogers Marshall. 1982. “Institutions of Rural Development for the Poor: Decentralization and Organizational Linkages.”Research Series. Berkeley: Institute for International Studies, University of California, Berkeley.

    Google Scholar 

  • Library of Congress Country Studies <http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/cshome.html#toc>

  • Litvack, Jennie, Junaid Ahmad, and Richard Bird. 2000.Rethinking Decentralization at the World Bank. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank.

    Google Scholar 

  • Litvack, Jennie. 1998.Rethinking Decentralization in Developing Countries. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Long, J. Scott. 1983. “Confirmatory Factor Analysis: A Preface to LISREL.”Sage Monographs. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  • Manor, James. 1999.The Political Economy of Democratic Decentralization. Washington, D.C.: World Bank Group.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Musgrave, Richard A. 1958. “Multi-Level Finance.” Ed. R. A. Musgrave. New York: McGraw-Hill.

    Google Scholar 

  • National Constitutions website <http://confinder.richmond.edu/>

  • Nice, David C., and Patricia Fredericksen. 1995.Politics of Intergovernmental Relations. New York: Thomas Learning.

    Google Scholar 

  • Oates, Wallace. 1972.Fiscal Federalism. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

    Google Scholar 

  • Polity IV Dataset <http://www.bsos.umd.edu/cidcm/inscr/polity/>

  • Rondinelli, Dennis A., James S. McCullough, and Ronald W. Johnson. 1989. “Analyzing Decentralization Policies in Developing Countries: A Political-Economy Approach.”Development and Change 20, 1: 57–87.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rondinelli, Dennis, John R. Nellis, and G. Shabbir Cheema. 1984.Decentralization in Developing Countries: A Review of Recent Experience. Washington, D.C.: World Bank.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rondinelli, Dennis. 1990. “Decentralization, Territorial Power, and the State: A Critical Response.”Development and Change 21, 3: 491–500.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Samoff, Joel. 1990. “Decentralization: The Politics of Intervention.”Development and Change XXI, 3.

    Google Scholar 

  • Schmitter, Philippe C. 1971.Interest Conflict and Political Change in Brazil. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • — 1974. “Still the Century of Corporatism?”Review of Politics 36, 1 (January): 85–131.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schneider, Aaron. 2003. “Who Gets What from Whom? The Impact of Decentralization on Tax Capacity and Pro-Poor Spending.”IDS Working Paper 179, Brighton: IDS.

    Google Scholar 

  • Snyder, Richard. 1999. “After Neoliberalism: The Politics of Reregulation in Mexico.”World Politics. 52, 2: 173–204.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wallis, Malcolm. 1991. “Local Government and Development: A Guide to the Literature.”Environment & Urbanization III, 1: 121–9.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Weber, Max. 1968.Bureaucracy. Berkeley: University of California Press. World Bank Group Decentralization NET website <http://www1.worldbank.org/publicsector/decentralization/dataondecen.htm>

    Google Scholar 

  • Yilmaz, Serdar and Robert D. Ebel. 2002.On the Measurement and Impact of Fiscal Decentralization. Washington, D.C.: World Bank.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Authors

Additional information

Aaron Schneider is a political scientist at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex. His research interests include comparative politics, public finance, and methodology. His current research projects include studies of federalism, decentralization, party systems, budgeting, and taxation. He has conducted research in Brazil and India, and plans to apply the measures derived in this article to study the impact of decentralization.

Tel:+44 (0)1273 678270; fax: +44 (0)1273 621202; email: a.schneider@ids.ac.uk. For valuable comments and suggestions, the author would like to thank Mick Moore, Arnab Acharya, Marcus Kurtz, Benjamin Goldfrank, and anonymous reviewers from Studies in Comparative International Development. Financial support was provided by the Department for International Development. All errors or omissions are the author’s own.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Schneider, A. Decentralization: Conceptualization and measurement. St Comp Int Dev 38, 32–56 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02686198

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02686198

Keywords

Navigation