PEA Update 1: What is Political Economy Analysis (PEA) and why does it matter in development?

By Graham Teskey, Priya Chattier and Tara Davda

Political economy analysis (PEA) refers to a body of theory and practice that was first identified by the great economists of the 18th and 19th centuries. Indeed, economics was originally termed ‘political economy’. It was only when mathematics intruded that the word ‘political’ was dropped. Political economy is concerned with how power and resources are distributed and contested – and how this affects the distribution of income and wealth in any country.

We are concerned with what the distribution of power and authority means for development outcomes. The starting point is always an analysis of the political reality of the country in which aid is being delivered – understanding why things are as they are, and not like something else. PEA has long-standing roots in political science, see e.g. Elinor Ostrom, but its systematic application in development has only been relatively recent (the past couple of decades). Several communities of practice are committed to building a better understanding of how the political context shapes development outcomes and influences the way donor agencies work.

It is useful to understand a little PEA history, conceptual underpinnings and analytical approaches, the evolving discourse and the communities of practice that inform the ways of operating that are politically smart as well as politically informed.

What is PEA and why do we do it?

Rapidly evolving discourse

Communities of practice – quick overview and history of the key CoPs: TWP / PDIA/ DDD and Adaptive Management

“Thinking politically” – PEA framing and tools

It’s all about the framing:

A major critique of PEA has been that it highlights constraints to aid effectiveness without necessarily offering solutions.

To be relevant and actionable, political analysis needs to identify tangible entry points, and be integrated into programming right from the design stage.

In this way, PEA is best conceived not as a one-off consultancy input or study, but as an internal, transformative process to encourage donor officials to ‘think and work politically’ every day. 

The PEA discourse notes that for programs to be operationally relevant, PEA analytical frameworks draw from a mix of analytical tools to better understand how politics and economics intersect to solve a particular development problem by designing and implementing politically responsive programs. 

Finally – suggest you print off the DLP ‘Everyday Political Analysis’ seven page brief and keep it by your desk. If you do you will be doing PEA every day…

This post formed part of an Abt internal briefing, and was first published on the Oxfam ‘From Poverty to Power’ blog. See here.

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