Few studies rigorously trace the impact of service delivery on legitimacy, stability, or social cohesion. However, the available evidence provides the following findings.
Service delivery and state legitimacy
There is an emerging consensus that the received wisdom that more and better services can automatically improve state legitimacy does not hold. Further, processes matter more than outcomes. Perceptions of equity, distributive justice or fairness in decision-making may matter for legitimacy more than expansions in access.
Rigorous cross-country evidence shows no straightforward link between perceptions of services being provided and perceptions of the state’s legitimacy. Starting points, specific to each context – including citizens’ expectations of state services, or their overall perceptions of the fairness of the state and its treatment of different groups – influence how and whether services are significant for state legitimacy.
There is mixed evidence for and against the view that non-state provision undermines state legitimacy.
Service delivery and stability
One strand of this literature has focused on the role of poor quality service delivery in generating or exacerbating grievances towards the state. Exclusion from service delivery is considered a significant, and often overlooked, source of grievance in conflict-affected communities. This literature highlights the priority that communities themselves place on basic services in their everyday lives and, therefore, the value of service delivery in normalising and stabilising life in post-conflict situations.
A fairly small but consistent body of literature has highlighted that service delivery can be among the core strategies that non-state actors hostile to the state use to control populations and ensure their own continued support and survival.
Service delivery and social cohesion
The assumed positive contribution of equitable service delivery to social cohesion does not seem to have a strong basis in evidence. Studies on this topic tend to focus on equity and inclusion in the delivery of services, and how this affects wider inter-group relations. Others focus on how processes of consultation on service design implementation or monitoring change social dynamics. It is sometimes argued that building community-level institutions around services can help strengthen social cohesion. But there is only isolated evidence of this.