Are public services the building blocks of state legitimacy? Input to the World Bank’s 2017 World Development Report

Hamish Nixon, Richard Mallett and Aoife McCullough

Type: Aoife McCullough, Working Paper

Organisation: ODI

Country: Global

Date: 14/06/2017

Full summary

How do political actors gain the trust, confidence and consent of those they seek to rule? One prominent argument holds that the provision of public services is a key building block of state legitimacy – an argument that heavily influences development programming, particularly in countries affected by fragility, conflict and violence.


This paper presents empirical evidence from survey and qualitative case study data on the relationship between people’s experiences of service delivery and their perceptions of government from eight conflict-affected countries. The evidence demonstrates that, contrary to the dominant discourse, there is no clear linear relationship between people’s access to services and their perceptions of state actors.


Instead, legitimacy appears to be linked to both performance (what is being delivered) and process (how it is being done), as well as shifting norms, expectations and experiences of service delivery. This paper frames these findings in relation to the differing theoretical conceptions of legitimacy as a function of output, process or relational factors. These frameworks complement important aspects of the World Bank’s 2017 World Development Report 2017 on Governance and the Law.