Researching the politics of development
The zeitgeist of political economy analysis
4 June 2014.
By Pablo Yanguas.
On Monday David Hulme and I attended a half-day workshop at ODI entitled “Aiding reform: Lessons on what works, what doesn’t and why” (read the summary here). It was basically a gathering of scholars, consultants and practitioners working on/with political economy analysis (PEA), of the sort that takes place every few months around the UK and Europe. What David calls the “aspiring” epistemic community of PEA was well represented around the table: all the familiar faces and usual suspects from ODI, The Policy Practice, The Asia Foundation, The IDL Group, LSE, Africa Governance Initiative, or the Developmental Leadership Program, as well as representatives from DFID and the World Bank (the latter presenting their recent volume of PEA case studies).
Under the chairmanship of Leni Wild and Marta Foresti we discussed the latest on PEA research and dissemination, as well as what’s next in the process of teaching and persuading development practitioners outside the governance silo that political analysis is inextricably linked with aid effectiveness (see Alina Rocha Menocal‘s excellent summary). It was an interesting afternoon altogether, built around a thought-provoking attempt at synthesis by veterans David Booth and Sue Unsworth. Plus our own ESID working paper on PEA got cited by a DFID representative (he called it “scathing, but in a good way”), a gratifying sign that we are actually making a contribution to these debates.
I live-tweeted some interesting tidbits from the event, which I am copying here so that everyone can get a sense of the current zeitgeist of the PEA community (Chatham House rules apply, so no names):
- “We have moved beyond bland references to ‘context matters’ or ‘politics matters’ and into developing a body of evidence.”
- “It is now widely acknowledged that the puzzle of development is not a technical one but a political one.”
- “The challenge for us now is to think how development actors can work differently, including whether donors are fit for purpose.”
- “How will we get pro-rich governments to support pro-poor policies?”
- “Transformative change comes from the accumulation of small victories that weaken the defences of the old order at strategic points.”
- “It’s neither ‘one size fits all’ nor ‘every country is unique.'”
- “Is it realistic to think that each and every aid programme can be designed in a flexible and adaptive way? If not, what’s the alternative?”
- “We are moving on from the assumption that good analysis by itself can change practice.”
And my personal favourite:
- “Just being able to say ‘yes, it has failed’ would create a great sense of relaxation in DFID.”