Reconstructing our understanding of the link between services and state legitimacy

Aoife McCullough, with Antoine Lacroix and Gemma Hennessey

Type: DRC, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Theme 3: Services and legitimacy, Uganda, Working Paper

Country: DRC, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka

Date: 17/06/2020

Full summary

This report presents a summary of the findings from the second phase of the Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium (SLRC) (2018–2020) on how state legitimacy needs to be re-evaluated by international development workers in order to increase the effectiveness of programmes that aim to support state legitimacy.


The research highlights several insights regarding the relationship between services and state legitimacy: 


  1. State legitimacy is co-constructed, not transactional
  2. Services become salient in the construction of legitimacy if they (re)produce contested distribution arrangements
  3. Basic services may not necessarily break or make a state, but they provide ‘teachable moments’
  4. The state may not need to legitimate its power to all citizens in order to maintain its power


The first phase of the research, between 2011 and 2017, featured a panel survey every three years from 2012. The survey was carried out twice in Sri Lanka and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and three times in Pakistan, Nepal and Uganda. During the second phase, in-depth qualitative research in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Nepal sought to understand some of the unexpected findings from the panel survey and qualitative studies in SLRC’s first phase. The third round of the survey included additional questions that captured people’s perceptions of state legitimacy, as opposed to just perceptions of government. This allowed us to draw more conclusions about the relationship between services and state legitimacy, and propose a set of implications to consider when designing programmes to support state legitimacy.