GaRI and Decentralization

This is the second installment of a three-part series on GaRI. This series is as much a way for me to navigate EWB’s GaRI sector as it is instructive for my readers. The individual posts will make sense on their own, but a full understanding will be achieved through reading them all:

  1. GaRI: a Primer
  2. GaRI and Decentralization
  3. My Role in GaRI

Decentralization is the process by which a government redistributes its power to smaller, local governing bodies such that these bodies may best (or at least, better) deliver various services to suit the needs of their citizens on a more local scale (Nibbering and Swart, 2010). As my coach Mina puts it, decentralization aims to give the power to the people. It comes in a few different flavours: 

  1. Political: redistribution of power to locally-elected officials (mayors, district officials, etc)
  2. Administrative: redistribution of authority and responsibility over financial resources for service provision.
  3. Fiscal: redistribution of revenues, either locally-generated or through equalization across local governments
  4. Economic: shift towards deregulation and privatization of markets

…and  intensities: deconcentration, in which authority over decision-making is distributed among levels of the national government; delegation, which involves the transfer of public functions to semi-autonomous organizations; and devolution, in which financial, administrative, and fiscal authority is given to local governments.

Decentralization is a process that is commonly applied to developing countries because full decentralization can, theoretically, help to reduce poverty by increasing the efficiency of resource allocation by local governments to their citizens and by engaging those citizens politically such that they can more effectively hold their local government accountable (Nibbering and Swart, 2010). However, the story might not be that simple; some scholars claim that political centralization is more effective for poverty reduction (Von Braun and Gote, 2000), while others say that specific conditions must be in place for political decentralization to be effective (Schneider, 2003).

In Ghana, the decentralization process has been ongoing officially since 1988 with the implementation of the Local Government Law, which formalized the  four-tiered government structure which had previously been set forth (Ghana Case Study, 2003). That structure, from the bottom up, consists of: Communities and their Area Councils (ACs), Districts and their District Planning and Coordinating Units (DPCUs), Regions with their Regional Planning and Coordinating Units (RPCUs) and Regional Coordinating Councils (RCCs), and the Government of Ghana (GoG).  The roles of the various bodies I’m throwing out will become clear as I move through my placement (I’m not even so sure about some of them just yet), so for now I must leave them at face value and hope that the description contained in their respective names accurately reflects what they do.

I’m a visual person, so I needed a picture to understand this complex structure. Here is my current understanding:

I'm such a good artist

Ghanaian decentralization: communities --> districts --> regions --> central government from the innermost circle outwards

Expect to see this diagram become more complex as I learn more of the intricacies of the Ghanaian government.

GaRI works at all levels of the Ghanaian government in various capacities to effect systemic change. At the Community, District, and Regional levels, GaRI works with DCPUs and RCPUs to structuralize evidence-based decision-making processes. Additionally, GaRI offers skill-and capacity-building fellowships, workshops, and training for different district-level decision-makers. These are offered through partnership with the University of Development Studies (UDS), the Institute for Local Governance Studies (ILGS), the District Development Fund (DDF), and through the District Coordinating Directors (DCD) Fellowship. At the Regional and National levels, GaRI works with different Development Partner (DP) Groups, DPs, and GoG sectors to ensure that policies and programs reflect district-level realities. Some DPs that GaRI currently works with include CIDA, GIZ, and UNICEF.

That was a lot to navigate. I see it like this: District and Regional levels are where the nuts-and-bolts type work occurs (read: data, data, data). The capacity and skills of workers at this level are built through top-down support from higher levels of government. This support, coupled with GaRI’s work with the GoG, creates an enabling environment in which evidence-based decision-making can excel (pun intended) from the bottom up due to incentavization and accountability feedback. The integration of all levels of government and top-down/bottom-up feedback loops involved really get me excited; this is systems thinking in action, folks!

There are still a lot of gaps in what I’ve said here, so please fire off questions if you have them! I will seek out answers and deliver them to inquiring minds.



Nibbering and Swart (2010) Giving local governments a more central place in development: an examination of donor support for decentralisation. Retrieved from:

Schneider (2003) Decentralisation and the poor. Retrieved from:

Von Braun and Gote (2000) Does decentralization serve the poor? IMF-conference on fiscal decentralization, November 20-21.

World Bank, date unknown. Decentralization policies and practices; case study Ghana – participants’ manual. World Bank. Retrieved from:


One response to “GaRI and Decentralization

  1. Hey Chris,

    Great post, you’ve done a good job of capturing the complexity of G&RI’s work concisely! I really liked your graphic of the government structure – bang on!

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