Applied political economy analysis: Five practical issues – Harris and Booth (2013)


The last decade has seen an explosion of interest among operational development organisations in finding better ways of understanding the countries and sectors in which they operate. Aware that their efforts have often been compromised by ill-informed or unsophisticated assumptions about country context, agencies from the World Bank to local NGOs have tried to apply political economy analysis to provide a better understanding.

One upshot of this interest has been a proliferation of acronyms and labels representing particular agencies’ efforts in this area. This has created the appearance of a complex and highly diverse field of activity. The wide range of concepts and frameworks in use can be off-putting to practitioners who are not yet familiar with the field. However, this is largely a false impression. In reality, the differences among the frameworks are limited to small variations around a common analytical core that guides users to investigate how power is exercised, how decisions are made, and how incentives and disincentives are brought to bear on specific organisations and individuals. The note argues that five issues are important in conducting a PEA:

  • Different models for integrating political economy analysis into operations.
  • How political economy exercises vary in scope and purpose.
  • The appropriate timing of political economy work.
  • Defining quality and the necessary skills and expertise.
  • Achieving and monitoring uptake into programmes.