Policy Capacity Matters for Education System Reforms: A Comparative Study of Two Brazilian States

Yifei YAN*, Hironobu SANO, Lilia Asuca SUMIYA

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


It is increasingly recognized that various competencies are needed for education systems in the developing world to succeed in fulfilling SDG4. However, reform efforts are often hampered by a lack of conceptual clarity regarding what these competencies are and how they matter. This article fills the gap by developing a comprehensive conception of policy capacity to explain the educational outcomes in two states in Brazil. The comparative case analysis reveals how variations in analytical, operational and political capacity are the differentiating factor behind their variegated reform effectiveness. While these findings put a cautionary note over the viability of copying policy interventions without considering their capacity underpinnings, they also show how a synergized combination of these three dimensions of capacity can lead to remarkable improvement of educational outcomes despite unfavorable socioeconomic conditions.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Comparative Policy Analysis: Research and Practice
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7 Oct 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The lackluster political will for education reforms in RN is further reflected in the shortage of pro-reform coalition or policy entrepreneurs to push for change. A former secretary of SEEC-RN revealed that she was not able to build any momentum to propose substantial changes (Silva ). The idea of education reforms also seemed in collision with some influential stakeholders, such as the teacher’s union and a group of professors at a local university that later became secretaries of SEEC-RN. As the transfer of Fundef/Fundeb funds is according to the number of students enrolled at each subnational level, state-level actors seemed to view the municipalities as competitors in receiving funding, rather than potential collaborators with whom to work together towards a shared goal. In such a political environment, even when there were occasional initiatives by non-state actors, they were mostly ignored by the government rather than being appreciated and insights from them being deliberated and incorporated into policy. Apart from the UNICEF example mentioned earlier, RN has also received technical and financial support from the World Bank during 2015–2018. Yet likewise, no substantial change was facilitated regarding political commitment for education reforms and improvement through this partnership.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Brazil
  • Ceará
  • Comparative case study
  • education reform
  • education governance
  • policy capacity
  • public sector reform


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