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The Political Economy of Reform: Moving from Analysis to Action - Final Report

Antonio Lambino's picture

We have reported on this blog that the Communication for Governance  and Accountability Program (CommGAP) and the World Bank Institute’s Governance Practice (WBIGV) jointly organized a two-day workshop entitled “The Political Economy of Reform: Moving from Analysis to Action”.  Held in Washington, D.C. a few months ago, the workshop sought to explore the role that Political Economy Analysis (PEA) can play in supporting and informing real-world reform efforts.  The event brought together more than fifty participants from various sectors: representatives of donor organizations, senior journalists, private firms active in development policy and practice, academics and applied researchers, and World Bank senior operational staff. 

Please find access to the full report here, which highlights actionable lessons learned from the workshop discussions.  Policy and practice implications are organized under five frontiers of PE analysis that World Bank Institute Vice President Sanjay Pradhan presented during his keynote address (please see video above).  Elaborated on in the workshop report, summaries of the five frontiers are provided below.  What follows was jointly drafted by WBIGV and CommGAP:

  • Gaining a real-world sense of what is possible, and using PEA findings to expand the feasible space for reform:  Operationally relevant PEA identifies potential entry points and possible political risks, is continuously updated to reflect shifting realities, and helps change agents adapt accordingly.  As a result, PEA can shed light on the feasible space for reform and actively engage and support actors on the ground.  From PEA, reform-minded actors on the ground (e.g., critical members of government, social entrepreneurs, civil society and academia) can gain a better sense of what reforms are feasible, what is needed to achieve these reforms, and how to expand the space for reforms.  PEA can also offer concrete strategic entry points that actors can use to initiate the reform process.
  • Knowledge-driven change: Dynamic PEA connects change agents and provides tools they can use to help form coalitions and advocate for and implement reforms.   Some of these tools include: a) developing platforms that provide spaces to share similar experiences; b) specifying concrete incentives for supporters to join coalitions; c) identifying credible coalition partners and the right timing for coalition building; d) using an appropriate mix of information and communication technologies to highlight the costs and benefits of collective action and to solve information asymmetries.   Maintaining a realistic vision of what coalitions can achieve is important to conserving their potential in supporting change.  In this regard, collective action cannot be seen as sufficient or always positive.
  • Challenging the knowledge production process: Successful and sustainable collective action to achieve reforms requires reorientation along three dimensions:
    • PE Analysis for whom? The final beneficiary should be change agents on the ground, not donors.  Accessibility of PEA (its findings and recommendations) between agents of change and the general audience depends on the sensitivity of the study.
    • By whom? To maximize its effectiveness, PEA should be authored by those with the most operationally-relevant and contextual knowledge.  An understanding of local institutions is essential to develop a comprehensive and action-oriented analysis.  International organizations should play a role in commissioning PEA, providing feedback and facilitating the exchange of knowledge, including best practices, among the donor community and academic networks.  This approach can unify research methodologies with dynamic understanding of the circumstances and opportunities of the country, creating a much more applicable design for political reform.
  • How?  Operationalization: Reformers need concrete tools to translate the findings of PEA into action on the ground.  Examples discussed during the workshop include:
    • Mapping of actors, incentives, stakes and institutions: a number of available frameworks within the donor community converge towards: a) including toolkits of conceptual mechanisms to answer questions with regard to the relevant stakeholders, their interests and incentives to join a coalition for reform, and approaches that seek to fill in existing gaps to allow for feasible strategies to take place. 
    • Consulting local elites on alternative reform scenarios: Mapping out reform scenarios and how local elites are likely to react (e.g., actively or tacitly support or oppose the reforms) to the various scenarios; this will help reform agents figure out how to move powerful actors from a position of opposition to a position of support.
    • Political context updates: Reforms typically take place in contexts prone to rapid and often unforeseen changes.  Given this context, the process of gathering actionable political context updates requires repeated interaction among change agents and key informants. 
    • Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E): Examples of M&E techniques discussed include: identifying entry points for PEA relevant to implementation during stakeholder meetings; injecting the political dimension into technical work; using technological innovations to monitor the implementation of reforms (e.g., call centers where citizens can promptly file claims and geo-mapping).
  • Institutional recognition and mainstreaming: Mainstreaming of approaches that recognize the fact that politics matter -- especially within the operational portfolios of international donor institutions -- is long overdue.  In contrast, the impact of corruption and conflict on development outcomes has already entered mainstream development discourse, and is accepted as such by policymakers. As part of a coherent communication strategy, high-level events, such as annual meetings of ministers, could serve as information platforms to advocate for the necessity of PE analyses, and help address disagreements and misunderstandings related to what operationally-relevant PE work actually entails.


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Submitted by Linda Herman on
The way the term "political economy" is employed in the report seems extremely superficial, often functioning as a fancy euphemism for "politics". Does the World Bank have a clear definition of what "public economy" means?

Thank you for your comment, Linda. Perhaps I can best address your question by referring you to the site of the World Bank's Political Economy Community of Practice (COP), of which CommGAP is a member. Please find it here: Also, please know that the report focuses not on PE analysis per se, but on the "analysis to action" agenda. I.e., seeking to learn from global experience the operationally-relevant aspects of PE. Perhaps this might be a factor in addressing your concern?

Dr. Lambino - I note remarkable parallels in your work and ours at The Asia Foundation. Please see our website And my paper "From Analysis to Implementation: The Practice of Political Economy Approaches to Economic Reform" - at Thank you!

Dear Dr. Tolentino, Thank you for sharing the link and your paper. There are, indeed, many parallels in our work in this area! I also noticed this a few months back during an Asia Foundation workshop at Carnegie, here in DC. Looking forward to crossing paths with you and your colleagues. Incidentally, I was able to sit down with Jaime, Steve, and Ky in Manila recently. Sincerely, Tony

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