2. Using Political Economy Analysis Tools
A paper by the Effective States and Inclusive Development team (ESID, 2015) distinguishes between three fundamental types of PEA.
(1) agenda setting or contextual analysis (or 'learning the game')
(2) problem solving analysis ('winning the game') and
(3) influencing analysis ('changing the game')
PEAs can also be done in two may ways:
(1) more in-depth analysis (covered by most the tools in this section) or
(2) regular/ongoing analysis. For example 'everyday political analysis' (by Hudson, Marquette and Waldock, 2016) is a simple, stripped down tool to understand why actors behave in particular ways and what is their ability to bring about change.
Each of these types of PEA can be applied at different levels (global, regional, country, sectoral and sub-sectoral).
There is a large variety of analytical frameworks which have common features and work through similar steps. We list below a few of the most useful analytical frameworks, starting with the most recent ones:
- USAID Thinking and Working Politically through Political Economy Analysis (USAID, 2018)
- World Bank’s Problem Driven Political Economy Analysis (Fritz, Levy & Ort 2014)
- Oxfam and OPM’s Simple Guide to Conducting Political Economy Analysis (Oxfam and OPM, 2014)
- UNDP's Institutional and Context Analysis (UNDP, 2012)
- European Commission concept paper on ‘Using Political Economy Analysis to Improve Development Effectiveness’ (Unsworth & Williams, 2011) and its annex on country level political economy analysis (EC, 2011).
- DFID's Political Economy Analysis How To Note (DFID 2009)
- The Netherlands' Strategic Governance and Corruption Assessment (SGACA) (CRU 2008)
- DFID’s Drivers of Change Framework (DFID, 2004)
As an alternative to PEA, some donors and many Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have employed power analysis frameworks. For example SIDA (2013), Oxfam (2009) and Christian Aid (2012) have used power analysis for years. Petit and Mejia Acosta (2014) argue that political economy and power analysis represent distinct but complementary approaches to making sense of power in the context of development initiatives. The authors note that both approaches are used to provide organisations with a better understanding of key actors and their interests, and of the enabling and constraining structures, conditions, and narratives in which their actions take place. We see such a combination in Christian Aid and Social Development Direct’s (2021) Gender, Inclusion, Power and Politics (GIPP) guidance.
The following papers provide useful toolkits for the application of particular analytical approaches when conducting political economy analysis.
- Swiss Development Cooperation has prepared comprehensive guidance on the use of stakeholder analysis (SDC, 2011)
- Analysis of collective action problems from a game theory perspective. See Corduneau-Huci, Hamilton and Masses Ferrer (2013)
- Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation PDIA toolkit: A DIY approach to solving complex problems (2018). See also, the related book: Building state capability evidence, analysis, action (Andrews, Pritchett & Woolcock, 2018)
- Planning and Navigating Social Change – OXFAM Tools for Pacific Voyagers (Orr et al. 2019)
The following documents present approaches for specific sectors or themes:
- The World Resources Institute’s Guide to Assessing the Political Economy of Domestic Climate Change Governance (Worker and Palmer, 2021)
- Overview of political economy analysis frameworks in the area of climate governance and key issues to consider (Price, 2021)
- Pact’s Applied Political Economy Analysis for Human Rights Programs and Campaigns (Pact, 2019)
- Short guide combining a justice-chain and problem-based approach: Rule of Law Expertise UK's Political Economy Analysis Guide for Legal Assistance (Domingo and Denney, 2017)
- Wateraid political economy analysis toolkit (WaterAid, 2015)
- A five lenses framework for analysing the political economy in regional integration (Byiers, Vanheukelom & Kingombe, 2015)
Until relatively recently, gender considerations were not always systematically included in political economy analysis (Browne, 2014a; Browne, 2014b). Despite practitioners and donor organisations acknowledging the importance of power dynamics and structures in political economy analysis, gender was often ignored, despite it often being one of the most important dimensions along which power is exercised (Haines & O’Neil, 2018).
However, there is now some excellent literature on the relationship between gender and power relations. For example, Koester (2015) explores the meaning of power and how a gender perspective help us understand it, as well as the meaning of gender and how a power perspective help us understand it. She then elaborates the policy and operational messages that follow from a focus on gender and power.
Moreover, development programmes that use political economy analysis have increasingly adopted a gender lens to their analysis. Castilljo, Domingo, George, and O’Connell (2020) pull together discussions from practitioners working on gender equality in conflict-affected environments. They argue that a deeper understanding is needed of gender issues in these contexts and suggest changes to the organisational culture, systems, practices and tools within donor organisations to achieve this. Nazneen, Hickey, and Sifaki (2019) analyse domestic violence legislation in developing countries. They propose a new concept which they call ‘power domains’. Power domains can be used as a way to capture how inter-elite bargaining, coalitional politics, and social movement activism combine to shape policies that promote gender equity.
Some papers also offer practical guidance for how development programmes can better analyse gender issues. Derbyshire, Siow, Gibson, Hudson, and Roche (2018) draws together reflections, approaches and practical lessons from 15 development programs that are seeking both to be gender aware and to understand and engage with power and politics. Similarly, Derbyshire, Gibson, Hudson, and Roche (2018) analyse previous political analysis case studies that incorporated gender into their analysis and make suggestions for improvements. The authors assess and evaluate programmes in Indonesia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Tonga and draw out lessons from each study. By using a bottom-up approach, development projects could ensure local ownership and focus on gender inequality issues within a specific context. Consequently, practices would be strengthened, and development results would be improved.
There are a number of good guides on how to do PEA, including one by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT, 2016) as well as Whaites (2017)’s excellent Beginners Guide to Political Economy Analysis. USAID has also produced a very helpful check list for missions.
Harris and Booth (2013) highlight five key design issues for PEA studies: 1) selecting from the different models for integrating political economy analysis into operations, 2) how political economy exercises vary in scope and purpose, 3) the appropriate timing of political economy work, 4) defining quality and the necessary skills and expertise, and 5) achieving and monitoring uptake into programmes.
It is critical to value and draw on local expertise as part of a PEA. Jacobstein (2020) offers some tips on learning from context and strengthening local capacity to assess incentives and conduct savvy, adaptive programming from USAID’s experience.
There are benefits but also drawbacks to conducting PEA as an occasional, one-off study contracted to external consultants; alternatives include greater use of in-house resources and slimmed down and accessible analytical frameworks (Marquette and Fisher, 2014). PEA can start small, for example with a short conversation amongst experts and practitioners, before scaling up to include a more in-depth workshop or research agenda (ESID, 2015). Other have also called for more interactive forms of enquiry (Copestake and Williams, 2012).
McGregor et al. (2021) detail RTI’s experience of conducting applied political economy analysis. They suggest that engaging project staff in PEAs increases the likelihood that they will be open to a thinking and working politically mindset and approach. They argue that including gender equity and social inclusion (GESI) considerations can uncover and address hidden power dynamics, and that it can be useful to explicitly connect PEA findings to project implementation (see TWP and adaptive management section of this guide).