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Mapping Political Context: Country Policy and Institutional Assessment


Country Policy and Institutional Assessments (CPIA) are carried out annually by the World Bank to measure and rank the ability of countries to make effective use of aid. CPIA ratings are used by the Bank to calculate country performance ratings, and play an important role in determining the Bank's allocation of aid. CPIA ratings have been conducted since 1977.

How does a CPIA work?

The CPIA is a centrally coordinated process carried out under tight guidelines and supervision. The assessment consists of a set of 16 criteria in four groups (listed in figure below). Each of these is rated on a scale from 1 (very weak) to 6 (very strong). The ratings rely on the judgments of technical analysts, who assess how well a country's policy and institutional framework fosters poverty reduction, sustainable growth and effective use of aid.

Until recently, the detailed results and the precise way in which they have been reached have been confidential. However, the World Bank has recently fulfilled its promise to make more information about CPIA scores available.

The CPIA process is conducted in-house by Bank economists, sector specialists and other members of country teams. In the first stage of the process, 'benchmark' countries from each of the World Bank's six regions undergo intensive assessment to ensure consistency across regions. In the second phase, each region assesses the remaining countries using the regional benchmark as a reference. Submissions for all the countries in the region are reviewed. The final phase sees rounds of review between the Bank's regional and central units. The process takes three to four months and total costs are estimated at over US$1 million per annum.

Elements of the CPIA

Conceptual approach and indicators

  • CPIA ratings are conducted by the World Bank for a specific purpose: making a judgment about how effectively a country can use aid. This is a clear reminder to CSOs and others that context mapping perhaps works best when it is conducted with a clear purpose in mind.
  • Seeking to map or assess multiple dimensions of context, the CPIA may provide CSOs with ideas about what dimensions of context they might want to map. The CPIA questionnaire itself (see below, in 'Data') provides a detailed description of the indicators that have been used to assess different criteria or dimensions of context.


  • As with many of the other tools for mapping context, the CPIA relies ultimately on the judgments of experts. The ways in which the CPIA process makes use of expert views and seeks to quantify them to enable comparison among countries may provide CSOs and others with food for thought.
  • In particular, a preliminary stage in CPIA analysis involves setting regional benchmarks to ensure cross-country comparability. Any CSO context mapping project that seeks to produce results that can be compared between countries would be well advised to think about the use of regional benchmarks.
  • The CPIA questionnaire provides suggestions CSOs might themselves use to gather information about various dimensions of context. This could be of great value to CSOs seeking guidance on possible data sources.

Analysis, presentation and recommendations

  • The CPIA guidelines stress that the meaning of seemingly objective information depends on the particular country case/context. This raises issues regarding the trade-off between country comparability and the importance of recognising country specificity, a trade-off with which many context mapping exercises will need to grapple.
  • The CPIA, its analysis, and the recommendations for action - how much aid to provide - which it drives raise another set of important issues as regards context mapping. That is, attempts to map context objectively perhaps inevitably embody normative and inherently political assumptions. Critics of the CPIA have argued that it has a pro-growth, pro-liberalisation bias (Powell, 2004), and that it gives too much weight to a particular conception of 'good governance' which revolves around minimal regulation and strong property rights. It is perhaps more honest for exercises in context mapping to be explicit about their assumptions, rather than to pretend to be totally objective.
  • The CPIA assessments provide CSOs and others with valuable information about the policy and institutional context in the countries assessed.

This tool first appeared in the ODI Toolkit, Mapping Political Context, A Toolkit for Civil Society Organisations.