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?
- Glossary of key terms – see here
- Quick history of a wide body of theory and practice
- Conceptual underpinnings that recognise the need for development agencies and practitioners to be sensitive to local context and local politics.
- Political factors are often outside the scope of development practitioner control, see here; but thinking about power and politics everyday might help frontline program staff to make politically informed decision.
- PEA Investigates where locally driven opportunities for change may emerge and where constraints may need to be addressed, including why institutions matter; and the need to understand the political settlement; and drivers of political competition.
- Programs which are politically smart, locally-led and adaptive were successful because donor staff adapted the way they worked through iterative problem solving and brokering of interests by local actors.
- Key ideas: path dependence; rent-seeking; institutions; the social contract; sovereignty and authority; legitimacy
Rapidly evolving discourse
- The need to better understand vested interests and political barriers.
- Gender and PEA (why it hasn’t been GESI responsive to date)
Communities of practice – quick overview and history of the key CoPs: TWP / PDIA/ DDD and Adaptive Management
- TWP – https://twpcommunity.org/
- PDIA – in this video, Lant Pritchett, provides an overview of PDIA core principles
- DDD – CoP Manifesto; ODI’s DDD homepage and a great blog which touches on the challenge of “jumping through the rabbit hole without the parachute of pre-determined assumptions.”
- Adaptive management – blog on why we find it hard to operationalise it and a personal take of an aid worker on ‘politically smart’ programming.
“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.
- What kinds of issues and ingredients are often included in a PEA?
- PEA is a formal process, but also a way of understanding why change is happening (or not happening). To think politically, one must understand the political economy environment at the country level, i.e., the drivers of change– structure, institutions and agency
- PEA can be conducted at various levels – see here;
- Country level PEA studies
- Sector level PEA studies, see also this Briefing Note on how PEA to education and health sector programming is applied in 13 Countries in Asia, Africa and the Pacific.
- Problem driven PEA within a sector
- Key literature on cross-section of examples across different contexts and analysis at country, sector and program level.
- Critical first step in a PEA is defining the problem, led by local actors.
- What tools are out there to help us conduct a PEA?
- Challenges to conducting PEA:
- What’s missing and why it matters? (Only if you are really keen!)
- Myth busters
- Limitations with current tools: e.g. the use of logical frameworks in complex environments.
- What if the problem isn’t linear? i.e. We don’t know where we are going or how to get there.
- Donor politics of development
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.