Researching the politics of development



Can aid bureaucracies think politically? The administrative challenges of political economy analysis in DFID and the World Bank

Working paper 33

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Pablo Yanguas and David Hulme
Although politics has become central to international development assistance, the use of political economy analysis (PEA) as a means for greater aid effectiveness remains an aspiring epistemic agenda. Even though virtually all aid donors have some personnel working on the development and implementation of PEA methodologies and frameworks, whether this new cognitive model for aid is compatible with pre-existing administrative factors is still an open question. We argue that for PEA to become fully institutionalised in donor agencies it needs to overcome the hurdles of administrative viability: its proponents need to reconcile it with corporate and professional incentives, as well as with the political environment in which an agency operates. We track this process empirically within two PEA leaders: the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the World Bank. Using documents and interviews from headquarters as well as three country offices – Bangladesh, Ghana, Uganda – we find that political economy analysis has not yet become institutionalised in programming, management or the professions, and remains an intellectual agenda very much rooted in the governance silo. We conclude by arguing that the future of PEA lies in organisational change, not any particular framework, and that this change is more likely to occur by disseminating PEA outside of the governance profession into agency management and the various sectors of development assistance.