Defining political will

Defining political will. Post, L.A., Raile, A.N.W and Raile, E.D. 2010. in Politics and Policy, Vol 38, No. 4  

Although frequently invoked as a rhetorical tool in political discussions, political will remains ambiguous as a concept. The authors propose a pragmatic and systematic approach to the definition. This approach facilitates analysis by identifying particular shortcomings in political will and potential ameliorative measures. The authors also address fundamental issues like the specification of contexts. The analytical approach includes a conceptual definition dissected into essential components, along with corresponding means of operationalisation and targets for assessment. Among the major definitional components are requirements that a sufficient set of decision makers intends to support a particular initiative and that such support is committed. The latter condition is difficult to ascertain, but various signals, influences and constraints on action are observable. 

Political will in combating corruption in developing and transition economies: A comparative study of Singapore, Hong Kong and Ghana. Abdulai, A.G. 2009. in Journal of Financial Crime, Vol 16, No. 4.

This paper examines the role of political will in combating corruption in three different countries: Hong Kong, Singapore and Ghana. It concludes that controlling corruption in a sustained manner requires a consistent demonstration of genuine commitment on the part of the top political elite. The article highlights a number of lessons from the successful anti-corruption strategies of Singapore and Hong Kong that are significant for developing countries, including: (i) the need for participatory and inclusive anti-corruption reforms that involve all stakeholders (public and private sectors as well as civil society); (ii) the need to provide adequate budgets and staff for specialised anti-corruption agencies and grant them independence in the execution of their mandates and; (iii) the need to establish effective mechanisms to provide positive incentives for those who comply with anti-corruption laws, while exposing and sanctioning corrupt individuals and institutions.  

From political won’t to political will: Building support for participatory governance. Malena, C. (ed.), 2009.  USA: Kumarian Press. https://styluspub.presswarehou...  

The introduction to this book offers an overview of the concept of political will and the difficulties of defining and measuring it. The author later breaks down the concept into three elements: political want, political can and political must and analyses the different factors that affect political will at the individual, organisational, relational and societal levels. The book also provides examples of how to generate, nurture and build political will for participatory governance. The concluding chapter analyses the main reasons for the lack of political will, effective strategies for nurturing political will, and key factors of success and lessons learned in building political will for participatory governance.  

Where there’s a will, there’s a way? Untangling ownership and political will in post-conflict stability and reconstruction operations. Brinkerhoff, D.W. 2007. in The Whitehead Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations, Winter/Spring 2007.  

Although this paper deals mostly with the challenges of post-conflict reconstruction, the author sheds some light on the potential role of donors in re-building and strengthening institutions and explores ways in which donors can potentially help generate political will. The author concludes that donors can help enhance political will and the sense of ownership by analysing how the donor-country relationship affects the interests and motivation of all stakeholders in a country (and not simply national decision makers). The author also recommends breaking down ownership and political will into measurable and more tangible concepts and advises donors to avoid pushing for policy shortcuts to achieve quick results.  

What does ownership mean in practice? Policy learning and the evolution of the pro-poor policies in Uganda. Morrisey, O. and Vershoor, A. 2006. in A. Paloni and M. Zanardi (eds.), The IMF, World Bank and Policy Reform. London: Routledge  

Despite the fact that this paper focuses on pro-poor policies, it addresses the issue of political commitment and government ownership. The authors argue that successful implementation of poverty reduction policies in developing countries depends mostly on the policy environment and that a government’s assessment of whether or not a policy can be implemented plays a salient role in the choices it makes. Persuasive economic arguments supported by relevant research can shape preferences while technical and financial support can enhance political capacity. Through such interventions, donors can help to establish political support for reforms.  

Beyond “political will”: How institutional context shapes the implementation of anti-corruption policies. Fritzen, S. 2006. in Policy and Society, Vol 24, No. 3.  

Despite the literature that argues in favour of the importance of political will for the success of anti-corruption reforms, this paper shows that political will alone is not enough to guarantee the success of these reforms. The author argues that in many occasions the very actors who must adopt and implement policies to curb corruption are those who may face weak, or even negative, incentives to do so. Moreover, by analysing the case of Vietnam, the author identifies some potential pitfalls for anti-corruption reforms in countries with autocratic institutions or where corruption is systematic. The paper concludes that certain institutional settings, especially those where the executive authority is incontestable, the bureaucracy is fragmented and civil society is weak, facilitate the ability of actors throughout the system to resist anti-corruption efforts.  

Deconstructing political will: Explaining the failure to prevent deadly conflicts and mass atrocities. Woocher, L. 2001. in Princeton Journal of Public and International Affairs, Vol 12, No. 10.  

This paper analyses the concept of political will by drawing on examples of deadly conflicts in Rwanda and Serbia. The author claims that these two catastrophes were blamed on a lack of political will, but criticises the absence of a systematic analysis of this concept and its determinants. This paper sketches a theoretical framework for the role of political will in conflict prevention and identifies several factors that might affect political will and the corresponding strategies for its enhancement.  

Assessing political will for anti-corruption efforts: An analytic framework. Brinkerhoff, D.W. 2000. in Public Administration and Development, Vol. 20, No. 3.  

This article focuses on analysing political will as it relates to the design, initiation and pursuit of anti-corruption activities. The article elaborates an analytical framework for political will that divides the concept into a set of characteristics and indicators. The author also identifies the external factors that affect political will and traces their influence on the support for design and outcomes of anti-corruption reforms. The article closes with recommendations on the practical applications of the framework.


Roberto Martínez B. Kukutschka


Marie Chêne, Finn Heinrich, PhD, Transparency International, Carmen Malena, CIVICUS



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