Working Paper


International Push for SBMCs and the Problem of Isomorphic Mimicry: Evidence from Nigeria


Establishing School-Based Management Committees (SBMCs) is one of the most widely adopted and widely studied interventions aimed at addressing the learning crisis faced in many developing countries: giving parents and communities a certain degree of control over aspects of school management is assumed to increase school accountability and contribute to improvements in learning. Examining the case of Nigeria, which in 2005 adopted a national policy to establish SBMCs in state schools, this paper reviews the evidence available on SBMCs’ ability to mobilise communities, and the potential for this increased community participation to translate into improved learning.

The paper shows that while local community participation can help improve school performance, the donor and state supported SBMCs struggle to stay active and have positive impact on school performance. Yet for ministries of education in many developing countries establishing SBMCs remains a priority intervention among the many initiatives aimed at improving education quality. The paper thus asks what makes the establishment of SBMCs a priority intervention for the Nigerian government. By presenting an analysis of the SBMC-related policy documents in Nigeria, the paper demonstrates that an intervention aimed at involving local communities and developing bottom-up approaches to identifying and designing education policies is itself entirely a product of top-down policy making, envisioned, developed, and funded almost entirely by the international development community. The entire process is reflective of isomorphic mimicry—a process whereby organisations attempt to mimic good behaviour to gain legitimacy, instead of fixing real challenges. Adopting the policy to establish SBMCs, which is heavily promoted by the international development community and does not require actual reform of the underlying political-economy challenges hindering investment in education, enables education ministries to mimic commitment to education reforms and attain the endorsement of the international community without addressing the real challenges. Like all cases of isomorphic mimicry, such policy adoption and implementation has costs: national ministries, as well as state- and district-level education authorities, end up devoting time, resources, and energy to planning, designing, and implementing an intervention for which neither the need nor the evidence of success is established. Additionally, such top-down measures prevent state agencies from identifying local opportunities for delivering the same goals more effectively and perhaps at a lower cost.

The paper illustrates this with the case of the state of Kano: there is a rich indigenous culture of supporting community schools, yet, rather than learning why local communities support certain kinds of school but not state schools, and trying to replicate the lessons in state schools, the SBMC model introduced is designed by development agencies at the national level and is administratively complicated and resource-intensive. The opportunity for local learning has not been realised; instead, both the agenda and the implementation framework have been entirely  shaped by international aid agencies. The paper thus demonstrates how apparently positive policy interventions resulting from pressure exerted by the international community could be having unintended consequences, given the national-level political-economy dynamics.


Bano, M. 2022. International Push for SBMCs and the Problem of Isomorphic Mimicry: Evidence from Nigeria. RISE Working Paper Series. 22/102.