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Breaking the cycle of discontinuity: an indicator of public policy institutionalization

Daniel Bourghardt and Fabio Ono

In Brazil, the expression “voo da galinha” is often used as a tragicomical way to illustrate the essence of its development problem. It means “the chicken’s flight”. Imagine a chicken attempting to fly: it might be able to get up in the air and fly successfully for a few meters, but eventually and inevitably it will crash down before trying to get up to fly again. After the turn of the century, Brazil rose to become one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Its GDP reached an average annual growth of over 5 percent between 2000 and 2012, before Brazil’s economy, just like the chicken, crashed hard in 2013. Although in this sense Brazil might be an extreme case, this is what the eternal boom-and-bust cycles of many development countries look like. Up and down. Three steps forward, two steps back.

At Centro de Liderança Pública (Center of Public Leadership), we argue that a significant contributing factor to the inconsistency of the economy and politics in developing nations may be attributed to the discontinuity of public politics. This discontinuity is among the greatest obstacles for the continuous and stable development of developing nations today. It is a major source of inefficiency and resource drain, as it impairs the willingness to invest and lowers confidence in the public sphere. These are crucial aspects for developing countries. So, how do we break the cycle? How do we turn discontinuity into continuity? How do we institutionalize public policy?

As indicated by Samuel P. Huntington’s definition[1], institutionalization is a process, and we cannot expect change to happen overnight. We actually need to incentivize public leaders by highlighting the issue of discontinuity and its consequences, and thereby make institutionalization of public policy a virtue, something to strive for. We argue that a good manner to achieve this is to create a composite indicator that measures the level of, or potential for, institutionalization of a public policy. In our view, an indicator would serve to create a positive discomfort for public leaders, stimulating and incentivizing improvements in public policy in developing countries.

The challenge we faced at the beginning of our project, when talking to experts and public leaders, was that everyone had their own remedies to, and perspectives of, the institutionalization of public policy. It is a complex concept with various aspects to consider, as is the concept of public policy.[2] In that light, we saw the need to build an integrative framework that includes different perspectives from individual values and behaviors to more tangible aspects of institutionalization such as impact and output.

To achieve a comprehensive and integrative view, we base our framework on the four quadrant map of the Integral Theory by Ken Wilber.[3] On top of the four quadrant map, we view the institutionalization of public policy as relying on five fundamental pillars: People, Objectives and Goals, Organizational Culture, Governance and Legitimacy.

  • People refers to the people working in and for the public policy, as well as the purposes and values that guide their behavior, which are fundamentals for the success and continuity of a public policy.
  • The underlying purpose of Objectives and Goals is that they influence how organizations are structured and thus supply guidelines and incentives for their activities. The specific goals should be clear as well as both adequate and reasonable in relation to the overall objectives of the public policy.
  • Organizational Culture is related to the informal norms and values that evolve and become important for the activities of the organization. When a public policy project or program develop informal norms and values alongside formal rules, it acquires institutionalized characteristics.
  • Governance refers to the impersonal policies, such as structures and systems. These should be providing good and strong incentives for co-workers and stakeholders alike.
  • Legitimacy is generally viewed as a basic requirement for political governance and is a prerequisite for institutionalization. It is a necessary condition to properly exercise the purposes and objectives of the public policy. In this sense, social accountability and citizen engagement are fundamental concepts for legitimacy. We argue that social accountability is in itself a legitimacy driver, and high citizen engagement raise the political and societal costs of reverting policies.

We intend to quantify our framework primarily using structured questionnaires, but also by collecting other primary and secondary data. We consider it crucial to collect the points of view from various categories of stakeholders, such as high level government officials, mid and street level bureaucrats, as well as the target population (the “users”). This approach will allow us to compare responses to minimize bias and quantify the more intangible aspects of institutionalization, such as social accountability and citizen engagement.

Through this project, we want go from the “the chicken’s flight” to “the eagle’s flight”. We want to turn the unstable political and economic cycles of development countries into stable, trustworthy and adaptive development.

Since we are still in the process of realizing this project we are still gathering feedback and are open for all your questions and inputs!


Huntington, Samuel P. 1968. Political Order in Changing Societies. Yale University Press: London

Wilber, Ken. 2014. “What Are the Four Quadrants?”. Integral Life.

Read more about Integral Theory:

[1] Samuel P. Huntington defines institutionalization as “the process by which organizations and procedures acquire value and stability”. (Huntington 1968, p. 12)

[2] We define a public policy as: The sum of activities implemented by the government, which act directly or through delegation, aimed at solving the social, economic and political challenges of a determined area of society.

[3] More information on the Integral Theory in our upcoming webinar.

About the Author

Daniel Bourghardt, Fabio

Daniel is a graduate student intern at Centro de Liderança Pública (CLP) in São Paulo, Brazil, where he is working on the project of the Indicator of Institutionalization. He has a bachelor degree in Political Science and Economics from Lund University, Sweden and is currently studying his masters in International Relations and Political Science at Stockholm University.
Fabio Ono is the director of leadership development at Centro de Liderança Pública (CLP) in São Paulo, Brazil. Fabio is an economist, master in Development Economics and MBA in financial management. His past experience includes entrepreneurship and support to small and micro enterprises, global market intelligence, strategic planning for State government, production planning, foreign trade and capital project assessment for oil exploration and production, pulp and paper and mining industries, for companies including Sebrae, Alcoa, 3M, Santander Bank, Independent Project Analysis (IPA) and IBM.

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