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How to make public works work : a review of the experiences


  • Ninno, Carlo del
  • Subbarao, Kalanidhi
  • Milazzo, Annamaria


This paper reviews the experience with public works programs (PWPs) in several countries over the past 20 years to delineate use patterns and to determine the factors contributing to its use as a successful safety net program. The analysis shows that PWP have been used extensively in response to either a one-time large covariate shock, or repeated shocks. In low income countries, PWPs also have an antipoverty or poverty reduction objective. Our review shows that well designed and implemented PWPs can help mitigating income shocks; the program can also be used as an effective anti-poverty instrument. The paper examines the factors behind the observed wide variation in the effectiveness of the program in accomplishing its goals and identifies prerequisites for making PWPs successful safety net interventions capable of protecting the poor from income shocks, thus reducing both temporal and seasonal poverty, while creating useful public goods or services for the communities. For public works programs to be successful, it is important firstly to: a) have clear objectives; b) select projects that can create valuable public goods; and c) ensure predictable funding. Secondly, the success of the program depends critically on careful design and incorporation of all the key design features. Finally, a credible monitoring and evaluation system designed right upfront, prior to launching of theprogram can allow for mid course corrections and to respond to sudden changes which can inhibit effective implementation. The potential of the PWP program is enormous both in countries that have experiences with these programs and especially in countries that never used them. However, more research is needed investigation is needed to better understand the impact of PWPs, such as second round effects from the created assets, the impacts on the labor market, and their cost-effectiveness after factoring in both the immediate and second round benefits from its program.

Suggested Citation

  • Ninno, Carlo del & Subbarao, Kalanidhi & Milazzo, Annamaria, 2009. "How to make public works work : a review of the experiences," Social Protection and Labor Policy and Technical Notes 48567, The World Bank.
  • Handle: RePEc:wbk:hdnspu:48567

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    1. Carlo del Ninno & Kalanidhi Subbarao & Annamaria Milazzo, 2009. "How to Make Public Works Work : A Review of the Experiences," World Bank Other Operational Studies 11718, The World Bank.
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