Politics and power relations are frequently cited as determinants of the effectiveness of VEA interventions, yet rigorous evidence on how politics enables or constrains outcomes remains limited. Although aid actors have in recent years acknowledged the need to work politically, this has often not translated into practice. Political economy analysis can in principle help agencies understand the structural constraints that informal institutions place on VEA, and identify actors, coalitions or social movements willing to support change (Unsworth, 2010).
Working politically requires adapting theories of change to local incentives and power dynamics, and being realistic about what can be achieved (Wild & Harris, 2011). For example, information provision is unlikely to create incentives for responsiveness to citizens in the context of a highly centralised system of patronage (Wild & Harris, 2011). Nevertheless, some evidence of positive results from applying thinking and working politically is starting to emerge – for example from DFID’s SAVI programme in Nigeria (DFID, 2013). More precise targeting of projects to particular cities or social groups correlates with reduced capture and corruption (Winters, 2013).
Unsworth, S. (2010). An Upside Down View of Governance. Brighton: Institute of Development Studies.
This study recommends that donors adopt incremental, indirect strategies to influence the local structures, relationships, interests and incentives that underlie governance. Donors should be open to unexpected actors or processes (e.g. coalitions), and should design actions based on deeper, context-specific understanding of informal institutions and their implications. For example, different public sector reforms have different effects on actors’ capacities to shape policies and service delivery. Other key elements include relations between political and economic elites, the roles of informal (‘traditional’) local institutions, and the local institutions and politics governing revenues from natural resources. Donors should also let civil society actors explore participatory representation outside formal elections and membership organisations.
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Wild, L. & Harris, D. (2011) The political economy of community scorecards in Malawi. London: Overseas Development Institute.
This research used political economy methods to understand how community scorecards have worked in Malawi. It found that scorecards helped facilitate collective problem solving by actors across the supply and demand side, and reignited communities’ capacities for self-help. However, the theory of change did not reflect some of the political realities. Service delivery remained significantly shaped by centralised patronage relationships, so the incentives of service providers were more strongly focused on responding to demands from the centre than from citizens, even where information on service gaps was provided. The provision of information is only a small part of the value of scorecards. More important is the process for identifying who the key stakeholders are, bringing them together to devise joint action plans to tackle service delivery problems, and following up on these plans.
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DFID. (2013). Thinking and Acting Politically: Supporting citizen engagement in governance: The experience of the State Accountability and Voice Initiative in Nigeria. London: DFID.
This report documents lessons from the experience of DFID Nigeria’s State Accountability and Voice Initiative (SAVI). It argues this programme is succeeding in supporting more responsive state governance, and a sustained pattern of constructive engagement between citizens and state governments is beginning to emerge. SAVI is achieving these results through supporting partners to think and act politically to a far greater extent than previous programmes. SAVI has applied a participatory political economy approach in which staff and partners are supported to conduct political economy analyses and update political intelligence themselves. SAVI aims to develop demand-side players who will eventually be able to engage with state government on behalf of citizens without donor support.
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Winters, M. S. (2013). Targeting, Accountability and Capture in Development Projects, International Studies Quarterly, 58(2), 393-404.
Can improved targeting lead to improved aid accountability? This article uses data from 600 World Bank projects to explore capture, as manifested by corruption or other funding diversion. It finds that more precise targeting is associated with reduced capture. Projects targeting single cities or particular social groups suffer less capture than projects with nationwide or more diffuse targeting. Donors could therefore improve aid accountability by using more targeted projects in more corrupt countries. Domestic governments could improve accountability to their citizens through better targeting.
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For further resources, see the GSDRC’s topic guide on Political Economy Analysis.