Very recent case study research is emphasising that politically smart development means locally-led development (Booth & Unsworth, 2014). Success has been achieved where aid supports local actors with the credibility, tacit understanding, networks and motivation to solve development problems. Politically smart, locally-led development involves learning by doing. It requires intensive investment in brokering relationships, and long-term commitment. These processes and relationships are often not aid driven or aid centric.
While cases documenting success with thinking and working politically are emerging, the evidence base is not yet balanced by cases where thinking or working politically has had neutral or negative effects.
DFID. (2013). Thinking and acting politically: Supporting citizen engagement in governance: The experience of the State Accountability and Voice Initiative in Nigeria. London: Department for International Development (DFID).
The SAVI programme supports coalitions to enable collective action, by bringing together groups of local actors, and then making those groups more accountable to citizens. A critical part of SAVI’s approach to achieving this is that staff and partners are supported to conduct political economy analyses, and update political intelligence, themselves. SAVI’s experience suggests it is possible for aid agencies to ‘work with the grain’ by changing the aid modality from primarily one of capacity building, to one of hands-on facilitation and brokering relationships between citizens and the state. Political intelligence gathering processes are embedded in SAVI’s theory of change. Partners are supported to operate in a politically savvy way, which means understanding the policy and institutional environments, framing arguments, and marshalling evidence in order to be influential. SAVI’s approach to monitoring focuses on case studies.
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Booth, D., & Chambers, V. (2014). The SAVI programme in Nigeria: Towards politically smart, locally led development. (Discussion paper). London: Overseas Development Institute.
This paper finds that SAVI illustrates the power of facilitated multi-stakeholder engagement and the disadvantages of seeing this in terms of ‘supply side’ and ‘demand side’ governance. SAVI avoids the pitfalls of a donor-driven approach by ‘taking the money off the table’. Key enabling conditions were that DFID provided space for an experience-based design process and permitted tangible results to be judged retrospectively, not pre-programmed. However, achievement of potential has been limited by the set-up of the DFID suite of state-level programmes to which SAVI belongs, with separately managed sector support and ‘governance’ initiatives.
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Booth, D., & Unsworth, S. (2014). Politically smart, locally-led development (Discussion paper). London: Overseas Development Institute.
This paper presents seven cases of aid-funded interventions that show how donors have been able to facilitate developmental change ‘despite the odds’. The central message is that donor staff were successful because they adopted politically smart, locally led approaches, adapting the way they worked in order to support iterative problem-solving and brokering of interests by politically astute local actors. The call for politically smart, locally led approaches highlights the changes that donors need to make to their own thinking and practices in order to act as effective facilitators of development change. They need to be politically informed and astute to assess the scope for change, and to make good choices regarding issues to work on and partners to work with; and they need to allow local actors to take the lead in finding solutions to problems that matter to them.
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See also: The Policy Practice. (2014). Politically smart, locally led development: Main findings from a workshop on 18th February 2014 at the October Gallery, London. London: The Policy Practice.
Booth, D. (2014). Aiding institutional reform in developing countries: lessons from the Philippines on what works, what doesn’t and why (Working politically in practice case study 1). London: Overseas Development Institute.
This paper examines two completed reforms, one concerning the formalisation of residential land rights, the other taxation and public health. It concludes successful change is discovered in a problem-solving, iterative and learning-oriented way. However, there is still little understanding of the processes and people that are capable of sustaining this type of approach under typical conditions. If external support is needed, it must be provided in the right way – well-grounded in an understanding of the way political and bureaucratic incentives work in a country – which is not easily achieved.
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Jones, S. (2010). Policymaking during political transition in Nepal (Working Paper 2010 – 03). Oxford: Oxford Policy Management.
What lessons can be learned from political economy analyses of Nepal to inform a) donor strategies in that country and b) future political economy analysis in any context? This paper examines political economy studies, commissioned by DFID, on Nepal’s agricultural, energy, health and police sectors. It finds that, while the short-term scope for donor influence on policy and institutional reform is likely to be limited, donors can act as a counterweight to rent-seeking and short-term political pressures. In addition, political economy analysis is most useful when it can inform specific decisions and existing processes, especially joint donor analysis and action.
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