Research Paper 28 - Donors Doing Political Economy Analysis: From Process to Product (and Back Again?)

Practitioners and academics are today convinced that 'thinking politically' is important to successful development interventions. Since the early 2000s, attempts to mainstream political thinking in most donor agencies have used a political economy analysis (PEA) approach, and yet this has been largely ineffective. This paper attempts to explain this failure through re-focusing current debate on PEA.

The paper argues that the process of PEA is not fundamentally flawed and indeed agrees, as PEA advocates have consistently argued throughout the 2000s, that success in future development programmes requires a wholesale re-thinking of the relationship between politics and international development.

However, we argue that PEA has today become a tool or product 'sold' to donors and 'done' externally, and it is no longer fit for purpose. We critique this type of 'PEA™', tracing its evolution from a transformative approach to policy-making to a discrete instrument that is applied to specific 'problems', usually by external consultants. We draw attention to the consistently faulty and introspective methodology that has informed the undertaking and application of PEA™.

Our analysis leads us to suggest that throwing away this model and doing something completely different is the only way donors can hope to move forward with the 'thinking politically' agenda.

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The Developmental Leadership Program (DLP) is an international research initiative that explores how leadership, power and political processes drive or block successful development.

DLP focuses on the crucial role of home-grown leaderships and coalitions in forging legitimate political settlements and institutions that promote developmental outcomes, such as sustainable growth, political stability and inclusive social development.

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