USAID to launch new political economy analysis tool

    A man looks at a computer screen displaying a graph. The U.S. Agency for International Development will soon launch a political economy analysis tool. Photo by: Nic McPhee / CC BY-SA

    While there is a widely accepted notion that aid agencies should not be political actors or influence the political arena on a country level, donors are increasingly thinking politically in order to ensure that funds and resources are used most effectively given the power dynamics within a region or country.

    The U.S. Agency for International Development will begin rolling out a political economy analysis tool next month in a handful of pilot countries. In-country agency staff will use the tool to guide a political economy analysis of projects ranging across sectors.

    “What we’re seeing is an increasing ability within each sector to focus and identify entry points into governance, to locate political pathways in each sector,” said Laura Pavlovic, cross-sectoral programs division chief at USAID’s Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance. “We do have a framework that we’re going to be piloting next month that exists at three levels: country, sector and issue-level political economy analysis.”

    The PEA tool will eventually comprise a training element for all USAID staff, according to a blog post by Larry Garber, senior adviser to the Bureau of Policy, Planning and Learning at USAID. “The agency is also looking to integrate inclusive growth diagnostics, which seek to prioritize constraints to growth, with PEA into a unified analytic approach for identifying the specific constraints to achieving sustainable development outcomes in particular country settings.”

    Pavlovic would not reveal which country missions would pilot the tool, but told Devex after a political economy panel at Pact on Tuesday, “It’s a longer timeframe. We’re trying to pilot it in a couple of country contexts first, and then we’ll come back, make refinements as necessary, ideally as we start to look forward to the next generation of country strategies, we’ll look for opportunities at the higher level and think about where investments should be made.”

    An open call

    In the run-up to developing political economy efforts on the ground, USAID is putting out a call to development practitioners for more case studies that demonstrate the value-add of PEA, which for many is still an untested and underdeveloped practice.

    “To the extent that you’re seeing programming going on ... in your work with other sectors that really is highlighting [PEA], please be in touch with us, because we’d be really interested in mapping this more fully,” Pavlovic said.

    Lisa WIlliams, senior governance fellow at the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance at USAID explained that having more case studies in their arsenal makes it easier to advocate for PEA within the agency — especially at this early stage of implementation.

    “It’s about getting the stories out there about how folks do this,” Williams said.

    But developing compelling case studies is one of the hardest things to do as a PEA practitioner according to Marc Cassidy, Pact’s global director of governance.

    “Essentially it’s a reporter’s task, it’s a journalist’s task,” Cassidy said, adding that he often works weekends compiling PEA work and findings in compelling and accessible ways.

    Telling engaging PEA success stories based on analytical content to broad audiences is “an important missing link in all of this,” Cassidy said.

    Politics can be a touchy subject for development practitioners, who often zero in on their technical expertise or monitoring and evaluation practices in an effort to achieve tangible results for donors regardless of in-country political corruption and disarray.

    There is a need, Cassidy explained, for PEA practitioners to interpret monitoring and evaluation reports and political economy reports and synthesize them in ways that are digestible for congress, donors and even host country governments.

    Cassidy advised young professionals looking to tap into development, and specifically PEA, that they’ll find opportunities if they can think politically and analytically in addition to embracing those technical skills and M&E best practices. And having country, region or sector-specific expertise is a plus for employers, Cassidy explained.

    Change across sectors

    Despite the challenges PEA practitioners face when compiling case studies, Pavlovic and her team at USAID are continuing to drive forward more political economy engagement within the agency and the new PEA tool rolling out next month demonstrates that.

    “They’re pushing hard now when it comes to political economy,” Staffan Darnolf, director of program development and innovation at International Foundation for Electoral Systems, told Devex Wednesday on the sidelines of a humanitarian diplomacy event in Washington, D.C.

    Darnolf added that although it’s a process that requires time and patience, “I think we will see much more of that work being done in the coming years.”

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    About the authors

    • Molly Anders

      Molly Anders is a former U.K. correspondent for Devex. Based in London, she reports on development finance trends with a focus on British and European institutions. She is especially interested in evidence-based development and women’s economic empowerment, as well as innovative financing for the protection of migrants and refugees. Molly is a former Fulbright Scholar and studied Arabic in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.
    • Jeff Tyson

      Jeff is a former global development reporter for Devex. Based in Washington, D.C., he covers multilateral affairs, U.S. aid, and international development trends. He has worked with human rights organizations in both Senegal and the U.S., and prior to joining Devex worked as a production assistant at National Public Radio. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations and French from the University of Rochester.