Thinking and Working Politically (TWP) is all the buzz these days, with political economy analysis (PEA) being included in tenders, and project designs across sectors. But what does TWP-PEA look like beyond design, as an integral part of implementation?
During program design and even start-up, PEAs can provide recommendations while acknowledging context complexities, actors and their playing fields, challenges, and openings for change. Conducting a PEA is a one-time effort that informs the objectives, results, and logic that shape a context-aware program. In contrast, TWP-PEA during program implementation is an internal process that fosters a shift in the team´s mindset, working culture and operations. It does so by systematically interlocking management tools with operational and strategic decisions built around evidence-based information that captures context complexities and emergent programmatic opportunities. TWP-PEA helps guide a program’s action plan and embed adaptive management into the DNA of the project, in turn, promoting more effective and sustainable programming.
Why Does TWP-PEA Matter?
The TWP approach recognizes that power and politics are equally as important as the technical components of a project. After all, it is the influence of local political forces that determine whether technical solutions will be accepted or rejected. Politics are not static, which is why flexible, iterative program design and management is necessary and must be grounded in deep contextual knowledge. Using the PEA field research methodology allows implementers to gain this knowledge by examining local power relations, formal and informal institutions, ideological underpinnings, and incentives influencing the behavior of local actors. Together, TWP and regular PEA helps staff identify entry points for implementation, windows of opportunity for collaboration, and potential blockers of reform in complex environments.
TWP-PEA as a Way to Implement, Not Just a Study
Applying TWP-PEA within a program acknowledges both the context where the program is happening as well as the program objectives, results, and the basic set of activities defined by the contractual agreement with the donor. A TWP approach using PEAs sits at this intersection, compelling the team, from the chief of party down, to systematically and periodically capture and respond to emerging opportunities and navigate through roadblocks within program objectives. It is an on-going process of thinking and reflecting on the most effective course of implementation to achieve program objectives and results within the changing political dynamics, and capturing that knowledge in adapted work plans, monitoring and evaluation, reporting, etc. This requires program operational and management procedures as well as new staff capacities and tasks from what a traditional development program approach might entail.