PEA Update 6: common criticisms of PEA approaches, and MEL tools for mitigating them

This blog forms part of a series of internal Political Economy Analysis (PEA) updates compiled by Priya Chattier/Tara Davda, with general wisdom by Graham Teskey and Lavinia Tyrrel. Thanks to Leisa Gibson/Priya for GESI support. We will aim to publish these every fortnight or so. Watch this space.

This week focuses on criticisms of the different discourses, and explores contributions to the literature on how to mitigate or overcome these. We include a discussion of the limitations of conventional MEL when applied to adaptive management (and PDIA, TWP and DDD) – e.g. MEL frameworks are often not fit for purpose – and propose alternative ways of collecting evidence. We feature a practitioner perspective, and a paper which asks, somewhat controversially, has PEA has veered too far off track?

Obstacles, incentives and change.
Image source: European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM)
  • Criticisms of PEA:
    • Mind the gaps: What’s missing in political economy analysis and why it matters. This paper argues there are four key gaps, that undercut the practical impact of PEA: 1) conceptual, 2)  operational, 3)  evidential, and 4) organisational.
    • Lack of evidence: What does the evidence tell us about ‘thinking and working politically’ in development assistance? Here, here and here
    • This report examines whether existing political economy approaches lack the analytical tools needed to grasp the inner politics of development arguing “Political economy has come to be seen narrowly as the economics of politics – the way incentives shape behaviour. Much recent political economy work therefore misses what is distinctively political about politics – power, interests, agency, ideas, the subtleties of building and sustaining coalitions, and the role of contingency.
    • In turn, this blog concurs that, yes – PEA has spent too much time trying “to look like economics, and succumbing to pressure to turn itself into a toolkit,” and that  it is “time to get back to power and politics.”
    • This blog adds gender and power to the TWP agenda: the power relationship that PEA forgot.
    • And finally, an excellent blog on how can a gendered understanding of power and politics make development work more effective – great examples and case studies of projects/programmes that are now starting to address the gender gap in TWP and PEA.
  • MEL for AM / TWP / DDD / PDIA:
    • This working paper sets out four steps for strengthening evidence-informed adaptive management in development programmes. See here.
    • A short blog arguing it is easier to make ‘tactical’ adaptations rather than strategic adaptations. Here’s why, and how to get better at strategic adaptation: here.
    • This paper introduces a set of monitoring and evaluation tools and approaches, and their usefulness in supporting adaptive management in development. Here
    • Adaptive programmes can be accountable, rigorous and high quality in how they use evidence by taking an ‘adaptive rigour’ approach. Here.
    • A ‘food for thought’ paper for donors and development programs that draws on reflections, approaches and practical lessons across 14 case studies of politically informed, gender aware programs.
    • This short blog gives an overview of some of the obstacles to effective use of MEL in adaptively managed programmes, including the different incentives that can shape how MEL is used, and how the culture of organisations can affect uptake.
    • A short blog the DDD agenda, featuring questions from a development practitioner on some of the challenges. Worth a read because poses challenges from a practitioner perspective.
    • A piece on ‘strategy testing’ can be found here, along with the politics of evaluation and the evaluation of politics here.
    • Finally, a case study of the transgender community in Indonesia, another on Vietnam’s garment industry entitled the Politics of better work for women‘.


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