Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

First Advisor

Krister Andersson

Second Advisor

Andy Baker

Third Advisor

Carew Boulding

Fourth Advisor

Anand Sokhey

Fifth Advisor

Jane Menken


Many developing countries face persistent challenges in providing public services to poor, rural communities: health clinics do not have the doctors or medications needed to treat patients, teachers do not show up on a regular basis, and environmental resources are left unmanaged. In response, development organizations have prescribed various public sector governance reforms. These reforms, the most prominent of which is decentralization, aim to improve services by shifting authorities, responsibilities, and resources away from locally-elected governments and toward a multitude of organizations and individuals forming broader governance systems. This dissertation investigates the social, institutional, and relational factors that shape the performance of these governance systems in developing countries. My approach utilizes the idea of polycentricity -- relationships among state and non-state organizations both locally and across levels of government -- to better understand how decentralized governance is targeted sub-nationally, its direct effects on public services, and its ancillary effects on individual political behavior. Empirically, in this study I analyze quantitative and qualitative data from the Honduran health sector, as well as related evidence from an original survey experiment. I find that the ways in which national, regional, and local organizations pressure and support one another systematically influence the targeting and effects of decentralized governance, above and beyond other existing explanations, but do not appear to crowd out conventional forms of local oversight or participation. In short, multilevel accountability and support are both necessary for decentralized governance to improve local public services. This project has set the foundation for ongoing research on how these types of institutional arrangements do or do not form spontaneously, and whether they can be cultivated to engender the collective action needed for local governance systems to serve their communities.