Policy and Practice for Developmental Leadership

About the Developmental Leadership Program (DLP)

The Developmental Leadership Program (DLP) is an international research initiative. The work is led by a small program management team, with funding provided by the Australian aid program. 


The Developmental Leadership Program (DLP) addresses an important gap in international thinking and policy about the critical role played by leaders, elites and coalitions in the politics of development. Current development thinking tends to focus on structural and institutional change, and policy reform in the economics and politics of developing countries. By contrast, the DLP’s growing program brings together policy makers and influencers, academic, business and civil society partners to explore and promote the role of leadership (and human agency more broadly) in the dynamic political processes of development to understand how institutional change and policy reform happen, are sustained or blocked.

DLP addresses the policy, strategic and operational implications of ‘thinking and working politically’ – for example, whether donors have the capacity and methods to understand the political space to help key leaders (both individuals and organizations) solve collective action problems, forge developmental coalitions, negotiate effective institutions, promote successful policy reforms and build stable and developmental states.

With its central focus on the critical role of political processes, power and leadership in shaping institutional arrangements and determining developmental trajectories, our work also has direct relevance for many other global challenges such as security, stability, peace-building, inclusive economic growth, service delivery, climate change and corruption. 

Core Focus

At the core of the DLP approach is the recognition that politics and power are central to developmental outcomes. However, our understanding of ‘politics’ goes well beyond the conventional and narrow view associated with governments, parties and elections. By ‘politics’ we mean all the activities of conflict, negotiation and co-operation that occur when people with different interests, incentives, ideas, and influence have not only to shape and abide by common institutions, but also to take decisions about how resources are to be used and distributed and, critically, about how power is to be gained and used.

DLP’s focus on leadership provides a profound opportunity to explore the interdependent relationship between political processes and power. DLP aims to improve understanding of the role of developmental leadership and coalitions in promoting political settlements, stable polities, sustainable growth and inclusive social development.

Working Propositions

Six organizing propositions underpin the work:

  1. The forms and processes of leadership directly influence the nature and quality of institutions and the patterns of state building.
  2. Developmental ‘leadership’ is a political process, involving the legitimacy, authority and capacity to mobilise people and resources, and to forge coalitions, in the pursuit of positive developmental goals.
  3. Coalitions (formal and informal) are groups of leaders and organizations that come together to achieve objectives that they could not achieve on their own.
  4. Coalitions are the key political mechanisms by which collective action problems may be resolved, and are commonly facilitated by the existence of prior networks.
  5. Institutions matter, but more attention needs to be given to political, power and agency issues, and hence to the role of leaders, organizations and coalitions in shaping effective institutions.
  6. Local leaders, elites and coalitions are the critical necessary agents that are required to contest, negotiate and devise legitimate, effective and durable institutions.

Current priority areas for our research

  1. The practice of thinking and working politically. How can development policy makers and practitioners consider the role of power, agency, leadership and conflict in their analytical, programming and operational work?
  2. Politics at the interfaces of the state. What is the shape of political processes between government, state, business and civil society?
  3. Collective action and coalitions. How do developmental leaderships and coalitions ‘work politically’ to achieve developmental outcomes in different institutional settings?
  4. The emergence of future leadership. Which spaces – political or otherwise – facilitate the emergence of developmental leadership, particularly by women and young people?
  5. The role of attitudes, values and ideas in developmental leadership. What shapes the attitudes, values and ideas of developmental leaderships that promote successful policy reforms and contribute to the building of stable and effective states?