From Political Economy Analysis to Doing Development Differently: A Learning Experience - Booth et al. (2016)


Under what conditions does an understanding of political economy strengthen aid-supported development efforts? This paper sheds light on this question by reflecting on the experience and engagements of a small team of policy researchers in the Politics and Governance Programme (PoGo) of the Overseas Development Institute (ODI). Since 2009, the work of this group has been largely focused on supporting the movement towards politically smarter development assistance. Three particular areas of work are considered in the paper: problem-focused political economy studies; training in applied political economy analysis (PEA) for development agency staff; and direct engagement with donor operations.

The main conclusion of this research is that well-focused and appropriately timed political economy studies are important but are not sufficient to bring about change in the work of aid agencies and development practitioners. Rather, there is a need to explore and develop alternative approaches to programme design and management. Awareness of political economy seems to be a natural component of development work that is problem-driven and adaptive, whereas adding better analysis to programmes that are pre-planned in detail and have limited room for manoeuvre has a weak impact. For this reason, those advocating politically smart aid need to get more seriously engaged with improving the internal procedures, practices and incentives of funding agencies and their implementing partners. The paper advocates placing more emphasis on the weaknesses of PEA as an entry point for transforming development work and the feasibility of approaching the same challenges from a different angle –starting with ways of working.