Researching the politics of development



From Phase 1 to Phase 2: Our progress so far

Pablo Yanguas
26 April 2017
Dr Pablo Yanguas
Why do inequalities persist over time? How do elite interests shape developmental trajectories? When are the poor and vulnerable included in policymaking? At ESID we’re devoted to understanding the politics behind development puzzles. As we turn 5 this month and enter our second phase of research, Research Fellow Pablo Yanguas recounts our progress so far.
At ESID, our goal is not determining how to fit the best technical solutions to local context, but identifying and explaining the political drivers of reform and obstruction, and their impact on Southern states’ ability to find their own paths out of poverty, inequality, stagnation or institutional fragility. Our basic framework draws on theories that explore what lies behind particular institutional choices, with an emphasis on the kinds of political settlements reached by elites through deal or bargains.
This approach requires in-depth qualitative investigation of each development context, but it has also yielded some key broader insights as to why, for example, political elites are more likely to pursue transformational and inclusive policies in Rwanda than in Ghana – and why some sectors of the Ugandan state are captured by the regime, while others are insulated from political interference.
Sectors cannot be studied in isolation, and policy domains must be seen as intertwined with elite priorities and ruling ideologies. Our economic growth projects have refined our understanding of episodes of economic acceleration and deceleration, and provided a novel framework for analysing state-business relations across the rent space. Our service delivery projects have identified the incentives and ideas behind basic care policies like maternal health or primary education.
Our social protection project has explored the conditions in which cash transfer models based on the Latin American experience can take root and become sustainable in African countries, highlighting the role and limits of donor influence. Our gender project has found a new way to map the coalitions that push for girls’ education and domestic violence legislation, illuminating avenues for change within otherwise patriarchal cultures.
ESID’s work relies on a large network of researchers and institutional partners across the North and South, which bolsters our ability to have meaningful impact on the ground. In Ghana, we have partnered with the Center for Democratic Development, West Africa’s premier think tank, and a stalwart advocate of accountability and participation for more than two decades.
In Bangladesh, we have worked with the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development to develop a more nuanced political understanding of the paradoxical coupling of political repression and humanitarian policy. In Uganda, Rwanda and South Africa we have worked with leading development experts, who are highly engaged with public policy debates. This combination of local roots and academic rigour has contributed to a broadening network of Northern partners, bringing in colleagues from GDI, LSE, Oxford, Harvard, ODI and IDS.

Our primary research has seeded more than 70 working papers, peer-reviewed and publicly available on our this website. Many of these working papers have become articles in some of the highest impact journals in the field, including World Development, Development Policy Review, Journal of Development Studies, African Affairs and Global Policy. Our basic framework was the subject of a book published by Oxford University Press: The Politics of Inclusive Development: Interrogating the Evidence (2014) and this has recently had great success as an open access title.

On the policy side, our research on the political determinants of growth has informed DFID’s own analytical framework. Our work on political-economy analysis has made key contributions to debates within the Thinking and Working Politically and Doing Development Differently communities of practice. Our country-specific work has contributed to public debates about social policy, democratisation and natural resource management.
As we enter our second phase of research (2017-19), we will deepen our understanding of elite settlements, social protection, gender equality and governance innovations, working with key thinkers to determine the various forms of inclusion that lead to developmental achievements and contribute to the politics of change. We are also developing analytical tools for our partners in donor agencies, governments and coalitions for change.
Listen to our Research Directors present the story so far.