Historically, a major critique of PEA has been that it highlights binding constraints to aid effectiveness without necessarily offering any solutions for practitioners. To be relevant and actionable, political analysis needs to identify tangible entry points, and ideally be integrated into programming from the design stage. In this way, some argue PEA is best conceived not as an off-the-shelf consultancy input or one-off exercise, but as an internal, transformative process to encourage donor officials to ‘think and work politically’ in a more durable sense.
Experience suggests that operationally relevant PEA draws on a mix of expertise from sector and political analysts, reaches an audience beyond narrow sectoral or governance interests, and makes recommendations that are specific/actionable (Fritz et al., 2014). In this regard, some argue problem-driven or sector specific analyses can produce more actionable findings than country-level analyses (Beuran et al., 2011). In addition, relative success has been achieved where the analysis has been participatory and inclusive, there has been support from senior management, and where it is integrated into sector programming (Beuran et al., 2011).
In practice, thinking politically implies understanding development as a locally-driven, political process. Working politically might mean engaging with a broader range of civil society actors, brokering and facilitating local political processes, and focusing on state-society relations, rather than trying to replicate pre-set endpoints (Leftwich, 2011). Working politically can also be operationalized through Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA), a flexible approach to aid that incorporates multiple feedback loops and can be adapted to real-time changes in the political environment (Andrews et al., 2012).
Fritz, V., Levy, B., & Ort, R. (2014). Problem-driven political economy analysis: The World Bank’s experience. Washington DC: World Bank.
Problem-driven political economy analysis holds considerable promise to help development practitioners identify what policies and strategies are most likely to succeed in addressing difficult and persistent development challenges. This volume is the result of a systematic effort to take stock of what the World Bank has learned from efforts to mainstream this approach. Based on 8 country examples of PEA analysis and its uptake, the report concludes a stronger focus on how politics and economics intersect to shape particular development issues can result in meaningful change in how donors design and implement projects.
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Leftwich, A. (2011) Thinking and working politically: What does it mean, why is it important and how do you do it? In Politics, Leadership and Coalitions in Development: Policy Implications of the DLP Research Evidence (pp. 3-13). Developmental Leadership Program.
Working politically in a developmental context means directing attention and support to the agents of reform and development (leaders and organisations). This allows investment in the local processes that will resolve problems – such as problems of collective action – through the work of alliances and coalitions. Hence, it will drive the formation and consolidation of the locally appropriate, feasible and legitimate institutions that are most likely to advance development outcomes.
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Andrews, M., Pritchett, L., & Woolcock, M. (2012). Escaping capability traps through Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) (Working paper 299). Helsinki: UNU-WIDER.
Many reform initiatives in developing countries fail to achieve sustained improvements in performance because governments and organisations pretend to reform by changing what policies or organisations look like rather than what they actually do. The flow of development resources and legitimacy without demonstrated improvements in performance undermines the impetus for effective action to build state capability or improve performance. This facilitates ‘capability traps’ in which state capability stagnates whilst aid flows continue. To address this, Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) should be deployed, based on four principles: 1) solving locally nominated and defined problems in performance; 2) encouraging experimentation; 3) using tight feedback loops that facilitate rapid experiential learning; and 4) engaging a broad sets of agents.
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Beuran, M., Raballand, G., & Kapoor, K. (2011). Political economy studies: Are they actionable? Some lessons from Zambia (Policy Research Working Paper 5656). Washington DC: World Bank.
This paper examines political economy diagnostics carried out in Zambia and their influence on the World Bank’s support to programmes in that country. It concludes that, while PE analyses are valuable, they need to provide more practical recommendations for approaching change. Country-level PE analysis provides useful background information, but recommendations from sector studies tend to be more actionable. It might therefore be preferable to focus PE studies at the sector level.
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Nunberg, B., Barma, N., Abdollahian, M., & Green, A. (2010). At the frontier of practical political economy: Operationalizing an agent-based stakeholder model in the World Bank’s East Asia and Pacific region (Research Working Paper 5176). Washington, DC: World Bank.
How is it possible to ensure that programmes are politically feasible? This paper documents findings from the World Bank East Asia and Pacific Region’s pilot of the Agent-Based Stakeholder Model. The study finds that this model helped construct policy debate on civil service reform in Timor-Leste; helped identify key coalition partners in Mongolia; and underscored the need to tackle smaller reforms on which broad consensus could be achieved in the Philippines. Mainstreaming the model as a regularly applied analytic instrument could significantly improve operations in supporting politically realistic reforms in client countries.
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