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Political Economy Analsyis

Deep Structure: Tensions in the Emerging Governance Agenda?

Hamish Nixon's picture
New Directions in Governance
With Mario Marcel, Senior Director Governance Global Practice, World Bank, and Jonathan Hargreaves, Head of Governance, Open Societies and Anti-Corruption Department, UK Department for International Development (DFID)
Photo Credit: ODI

From September 17-19 the World Bank’s Governance Partnership Facility (GPF) and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) hosted donors, researchers and consultants in London to look back at the GPF’s experience, and forward at ‘new directions’ in governance. The ‘governance crowd’ broadly agrees that their work, to be valuable and valued, must be connected to politically informed programmes, better services, and ultimately development outcomes. This consensus now even extends to the bastion of public financial management.

In practice, this connexion involves understanding political factors that drive institutional change and development, and using these understandings to improve development assistance: ‘thinking and working politically’. There are now many tools for political economy analysis, and there is a growing literature on what politically informed development programming can achieve, including a recent World Bank volume, and case studies from ODI, the Asia Foundation, and the Developmental Leadership Programme.

Can a Political Economy Approach Explain Aid Donors’ Reluctance to Think and Work Politically? Guest Post from Neil McCulloch

Duncan Green's picture

The more enlightened (in my view) aid types have been wagging their fingers for decades, telling their colleagues to adopt more politically literate approaches to their work. Why isn’t everyone convinced? Neil McCulloch applies a bit of political economy analysis to the aid business.

Over the last fifteen years or more, a new approach to development assistance has been gaining ground in policy circles. Broadly entitled the “political economy” approach, it attempts to apply a more political approach to understanding development problems and, importantly, development “solutions”. In particular, a central tenet of the approach is that many development problems are fundamentally political rather than technical and that therefore solutions to these problems are most likely to come from inside a country’s polity than from outside. Perhaps the most famous recent example of this line of thinking is Acemoglu and Robinson’s 2012 book Why Nations Fail.

Acemoglu and Robinson conclude that if each nation’s fate depends primarily on its domestic political struggles, the role for external development assistance is minimal. However, the response of practitioners to this field is to turn this argument on its head i.e. that is, if indeed each nation’s fate depends primarily on its domestic political struggles, development assistance should be trying to influence these struggles in ways that make pro-development outcomes more likely. Yet despite more than a decade analysis, the political economy “approach” is still rarely used by donors in the field. Why? I think there are four reasons:

Surprise, Perhaps the Only Way to Expand Reform Space Is…

Sina Odugbemi's picture
An important, new World Bank study has fascinating news. The study is Problem-Driven Political Economy Analysis: The World Bank’s Experience (Verena Fritz, Brian Levy, and Rachel Ort, Editors). Problem-driven political economy analysis is an approach that encourages those who want to implement governance reforms to:
  • Start the diagnosis with a focus on the problem to be solved, the challenge to be confronted (not general, big picture analysis for its own sake);
  • Probe why the bad equilibrium exists/persists by investigating the roles of (a) structural factors (b) formal and informal institutions…the rules of the game and (c) stakeholder interests, networks and power; and
  • Find a feasible path to reform/change in the specific context.

Getting to The 'So Whats': How Can Donors Use Political Economy Analysis to Sort Out Bad Governance?

Duncan Green's picture


Close but no cigar. Just been reading an ODI paper from a few months ago, Making sense of the politics of delivery: our findings so far, by Marta Foresti, Tam O’Neil and Leni Wild. It’s part of the ODI’s excellent stream of work on governance and accountability (see my review of David Booth and Diana Cammack’s book) and repays close study.

The starting point is the widespread disillusionment in DFID and elsewhere with ‘political economy analysis’ (PEA), memorably summed up by Alex Duncan’s definition of a political economist as ‘someone who comes and explains why your programme hasn’t worked’:

‘There is no doubt that PEA has helped answer some of these questions [why stuff doesn’t work]. Yet many would say that researchers have not found a middle ground between generality and specificity. On the one hand, the use of catch-all concepts, such as political will or unspecified incentives, fail to provide enough analytical purchase on which to hang entry points for reform. On the other, if we view every context and problem as sui generis, experience cannot be used to construct theories of change that in­clude learning across programmes and contexts.’

"Check My School" and the Power of Openness in Development

Johanna Martinsson's picture

There has been a lot of buzz lately around open development, and new initiatives seem to be popping up everywhere. My colleague Maya talks about what open development means exactly in her blog and Soren Gigler discusses openness for whom and what.  Soren points out that “openness and improved accountability for better results are key concepts of the Openness agenda.” However, he cautions that openness is not a one-way street.  For positive impact, citizen engagement is crucial and it’s important to “close the feedback-loop” through the facilitation of information flows between citizens, governments, and donors.

In light of this, a prime example of a successful initiative with an innovative citizen-feedback mechanism is “Check My School” (CMS) in the Philippines. Launched by the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability East Asia and the Pacific (ANSA-EAP) just a little over a year ago, it has managed to get real results on the ground.  The results and lessons learned were shared at an event held last week at the World Bank. The speaker was Dondon Parafina, ANSA-EAP’s Network Coordinator.

At The Cutting Edge of Governance: Final Day

Sina Odugbemi's picture

The third and final day of the workshop on 'Implementing Effective Country Level Governance' (Cape Town, South Africa) looked to the future. But, in a sense, it was not possible to look ahead without looking back at the same time. Again and again, participants reflected on the amazing road already travelled. Stories were told of the time when the World Bank and other donors would not discuss the terrible scourge of corruption in developing countries, let alone the role of politics and political institutions in either enabling or hampering development results. Yet now, all these things are part of not only the agenda but concrete practice in the field. A director summed up the state of play succinctly:

At The Cutting Edge of Governance: Day Two

Sina Odugbemi's picture

The second day of the workshop on 'Implementing Effective Country Level Governance Programs', Cape Town, South Africa was marked by a sectoral turn. The substantive reflections and lesson-sharing of the day focused on the implementation of governance and anti-corruption programs at country level in sectors like health, education, transport, energy, and extractive industries. Now, these sectors are very different, but what is fascinating is that with regard to good governance the issues and challenges are amazingly similar. Let me explain.