The ultimate goal of political economy analysis is to improve the quality and impact of aid. Though there is anecdotal evidence that PEA has been useful in generating greater political awareness and realism among donor staff, few case studies can rigorously trace the impact of political analysis or politically informed programming on aid outcomes. In part, this is because the intangible results of the kinds of activities that working politically involves, for example engaging with local leaders, elites and coalitions, are difficult to capture through conventional monitoring and evaluation approaches (Roche & Kelly, 2012). Researchers are working to develop a stronger evidence base on when and how politically savvy development assistance produces better results. Some agencies are starting to experiment with a new form of ‘action research’ which involves embedding researchers who can rigorously document the application of politically informed approaches, and monitor and evaluate their effectiveness in real time (O’Keefe et al, 2014).
O’Keefe, M., Sidel, J. T., Marquette, H., Roche, C., Hudson, D., & Dasandi, N. (2014). Using action research and learning for politically informed programming (Research paper 29). Birmingham: Developmental Leadership Program.
Action research can help build more politically informed development programs. This involves recurring constructive engagement with practitioners and it rigorously documents, contextualises and explains the processes and outcomes of programs as they unfold – and the resultant changes (or not). It aims to help development practitioners and their partners understand more clearly the contexts in which they are operating, the consequences of their practices and policy decisions, and how national and sub-national change is actually occurring.
See full text
Roche, C., & Kelly, L. (2012). Monitoring and evaluation when politics matters: Notes from program experience (DLP Background Paper 12). Developmental Leadership Program.
Monitoring and evaluation frameworks for ‘thinking and working politically’ need to be able to analyse both technical and political aspects of the work; to understand and assess the – less tangible – results of programme engagement in these informal processes and relationships as well as the values and outputs of more technical inputs. Factors associated with better monitoring include: having a theory of change that provides an explanation for the programme; identifying short-term results for a long-term programme; understanding the programme’s contribution to long-term change, and resourcing effective communication.
See full text
Is PEA changing donor behaviour?
Though there is now greater awareness of what thinking and working politically might look like, significant doubts remain about the feasibility of development agencies implementing it in practice. The thinking and working politically agenda has shone a light on the internal incentives and organisational constraints within donor agencies themselves. Some contend there are significant barriers to the institutionalisation of thinking and working politically, and as a result it has not yet permeated routine bureaucratic practice (Yanguas & Hulme, 2014). The model of outsourcing PEA to consultants may have further undermined this institutionalisation (Fisher & Marquette, 2014). Overall, while thinking politically has enjoyed something of a resurgence in development thinking, in practice default technocratic solutions remain very powerful, and only a partial revolution in thinking has been achieved (Carothers & de Gramont, 2013).
Carothers, T., & de Gramont, D. (2013). Development aid confronts politics: The almost revolution. Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The overdue recognition that development in all sectors is an inherently political process is driving aid providers to try to learn how to think and act politically. The international assistance community has made significant strides over the past 20 years to move away from its prior avoidance of politics and productively take politics into account. Yet this attempted transformation of assistance has still been only partially realised. Aid providers need to rethink and recommit to their political goals and more fully embrace politically smart methods.
See full text
Fisher, J., & Marquette, H. (2014). Donors doing political economy analysis: From process to product (and back again?) (Research Paper 28). Birmingham: Developmental Leadership Program.
Practitioners and academics are today convinced that ‘thinking politically’ is important to successful development interventions. Since the early 2000s, attempts to mainstream political thinking in most donor agencies have used a political economy analysis approach, and yet this has been largely ineffective. PEA has become a tool or product ‘sold’ to donors and ‘done’ externally, and it is no longer fit for purpose. PEA has evolved from a transformative approach to policy-making to a discrete instrument that is applied to specific ‘problems’, usually by external consultants. A consistently faulty and introspective methodology has informed the undertaking and application of this form of PEA. A completely different approach is the only way donors can hope to move forward with the ‘thinking politically’ agenda.
See full text
Yanguas, P., & Hulme, D. (2014). Can aid bureaucracies think politically? The administrative challenges of political economy analysis in DFID and the World Bank (ESID Working paper no. 33). Manchester: Effective States and Inclusive Development Research Centre (ESID).
Although politics has become central to international development assistance, the use of political economy analysis (PEA) as a means for greater aid effectiveness remains an aspiring epistemic agenda. Even though virtually all aid donors have some personnel working on the development and implementation of PEA methodologies and frameworks, whether this new cognitive model for aid is compatible with pre-existing administrative factors is still an open question. For PEA to become fully institutionalised in donor agencies, its proponents need to reconcile it with corporate and professional incentives, as well as with the political environment in which an agency operates. The future of PEA lies in organisational change, not any particular framework. This change is more likely to occur by disseminating PEA outside of the governance profession into agency management and the various sectors of development assistance.
See full text
Unsworth, S. (2008). Is political analysis changing donor behaviour? Paper prepared for the Development Studies Association Conference, London.
Research increasingly emphasises that what works in development depends on country-specific realities and opportunities. Political analysis needs to be recognised as central to the development process, so that donors make the necessary investment in understanding local political dynamics. This paper finds that while political analysis is influencing specific aspects of donor activity, its impact is fragmented and donors’ default position remains technocratic. Strong, visionary leadership is needed to enable donors to make major changes in their thinking, organisation and culture.
See full text