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By Marijane Osborn

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Decentralization is particularly widespread in developing countries for a variety of reasons: the advent of multiparty political systems in Africa; the deepening of democratization in Latin America; the transition from a command to a market economy in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union; the need to improve delivery of local services to large populations in the centralized countries of East Asia; the challenge of ethnic and geographic diversity in South Asia, as well as ethnic tensions in other countries (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ethiopia, Russia) and the attempt to keep centrifugal forces at bay by forging asymmetrical federations; and the plain and simple reality that central governments have often failed to provide effective public services.

The boundaries, colors, denominations, and other information shown on any map in this volume do not imply on the part of the World Bank Group any judgment on the legal status of any territory or the endorsement or acceptance of such boundaries. The material in this publication is copyrighted. Requests for permission to reproduce portions of it should be sent to the Office of the Publisher at the address shown in the copyright notice above. The World Bank encourages dissemination of its work and will normally give permission promptly and, when the reproduction is for noncommercial purposes, without asking a fee.

4 We do not know enough empirically to make definitive recommendations about which types of decen- Page 3 tralization are best for which services in which institutional settings. Much of the discussion of decentralization reflects a curious combination of strong preconceived beliefs and limited empirical evidence. But we do know that the best design will vary depending on circumstances and institutions, and that this complexity has sometimes been overlooked in the haste to offer policy advice. If a common framework can be established, we can begin to assemble documented case studies of decentralization, so that within a few years we may be able to identify with more precision patterns of success and failure.

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