Thinking and Working Politically in Economic Development Programmes – Some Sprints and Stumbles from a DFID Programme in Kyrgyzstan

February 6, 2019

     By Duncan Green     

Guest post by Andrew Koleros, Programme Director with Palladium, and David Rinnert, Deputy Head of Office and Governance Adviser with the UK Department for International Development’s (DFID) Central Asia Office. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the UK government’s official policies or Palladium’s views.

In November 2018 the FP2P blog posted a couple of instalments (here and here) reflecting on some of the successes of the Thinking and Working Politically (TWP) ‘movement’ in the past years and the challenges ahead. As a funder working for and an implementer working with DFID, we would like to further explore a question Duncan raised there: how to create the right tools to support other sectors to adopt and replicate TWP (outside of the governance bubble), without watering it down?

In response, we’d like to share some of the successes and challenges that we’ve seen in our work to date applying TWP on a DFID-funded programme in Kyrgyzstan. The Governance in Action programme in Kyrgyzstan seeks political solutions to economic problems. It brings together Members of Parliament, non-state actors and Government officials to work collaboratively, and in their shared interest, to address pressing market issues. These coalitions focus on fostering the minimum level of government action required rather than long shopping lists of unrealistic government reforms. It’s a TWP programme that works less in the “governance bubble”, and on the TWP uptake spectrum would be located more on the “revolutionary uptake” end.

A good example of how the programme works is its support to revising a Law on Internal Trade and Tax Codes, which requires Kyrgyz small businesses to pay a number of fees to domestically market their goods. This prevents many small businesses from selling their products in supermarkets and increases the price of goods for those that do. The project worked with concerned MPs, government and business representatives to collectively address the issue. The coalition gained agreement on the need to revise the current law in order to create a fairer trade environment in a way that benefited both small businesses and supermarkets.

This example is also a good way to discuss some of the successes and challenges the programme is facing implementing TWP in an economic development programme, and what lessons we can learn from this for future “toolkits” and programmes in other sectors. For example, we identified the internal trade issue itself through political economy analysis largely led by international expertise, who didn’t have much local experience or expertise in the sector, working with local staff who understood the sector and knew the major players in the value chain, but were new to TWP and challenged by this new way of thinking and working.  This led us to relying too much on international expertise at the start of the project, and an underestimation from the outset on the investment that would be needed to build a team able to work in a locally-led, politically smart, iterative and collaborative ways.

In addition, high quality political economy analysis is key to identify “solvable” political constraints that are not too “easy” (ie issues that might have been solved without programme support) or too “hard” (ie unrealistic for a development intervention to change). Mainstreaming rigorous political economy analysis in development remains a challenge (eg see here). However, we found that the economic development focus allowed us to look beyond “traditional” governance stakeholders and towards the identification of tangible constraints, such as those faced by businesses in the internal trade issue.

Specific TWP challenge                   Challenges      Existing toolkits or approachesHow we address it in our programme
Theory of [systems] ChangeIdentifying the key changes you achieve as a result of an (adaptive and) politically savvy approach (e.g., changes to institutional reforms as well as changes to economic constraints)Traditional Theory of Change approaches; PDIA; Adapting the systems ‘toolkit’ (e.g., causal loop diagrams, social network analysis, etc.)Drew from systems thinking toolkit to develop a theory of change which included multiple pathways from intervention to change in inclusive growth issues
Identifying quick wins (‘low hanging fruit’) to build morale/momentumWorking on a number of issues in a number of sectors in the absence of a more coherent strategy risks resulting in a series of interesting but ultimately unconnected resultsPolitical economy analysis;

Inclusive growth diagnostics; other diagnostics approaches

Agreement on rigour of analysis in issue selection (built into programme tools), and agreement on a balance between the number of sectors and number of issues we work on
Getting people to both think AND work politicallyEnsuring that PEA is a process not a product requires not only a capacity-building component but also a mind-set shift. And a recognition that this may require a different type of teamExisting PEA approaches and learning from applied PEA; see eg Everyday PEABuilding an organisational culture around “how the programme works”, embedding PEA process into programme tools
Finding and recruiting development entrepreneursThe small pool of individuals who have the necessary qualifications the funder seeks (relevant sector and country experience, donor experience, able to lead a team and implement TWP/PEA) essentially sets up teams for failureValue-based and competency-based recruitment;

Training for individuals and teams to implement TWP tools

Recognising that we may not get the ‘full package’ in any one individual, and building teams with different but complementary skills/experience
Doing the M, the E and the L in practice – Logframes and Learning for TWPMost donors require a results framework for accountability purposes but there are challenges around a) data collection; b) measurement (eg How to measure change in a politically savvy programme?),  c) data quality and d) learning (How do we ensure that ‘real-time learning’ really happens and is not just a buzz word).Logframe alternatives (e.g., search frames), flexible indicators (e.g, basket or bedrock indicators); data collection tools for PEA and other political analysis; different development evaluation approachesHolding quarterly strategy reflections with DFID which have helped to build trust and a close relationship;

Logframe doesn’t prescribe issues to work on or particular results, but uses basket indicators to capture types of results; includes an output holding us to account for being an adaptive programme

We also drew from the “systems toolkit” to develop a theory of change based less on cause and effect logic and more around “how change happens” in a complex market system like the agriculture sector in Kyrgyzstan. This helped us to map out the different ways that our coalition’s work might address the economic issue: working through parliament (e.g. revising an existing law); working with or through parliamentary mechanisms (e.g., using parliamentary oversight) or working directly with the executive branch (e.g. a new ministerial policy or regulation). Our Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning system then captures results as they happen. However, it is a long path before implementation of the revised law will lead to actual material benefits for local businesses and help reduce poverty. So measures of success on the programme are a mix of both capturing stories of “what changes happened” as well “how and why the change happened”.

Our experience has helped us to adapt the Governance in Action programme in Kyrgyzstan over the last two years, but has led us to further questions for reflection, including the following:

  • How can implementers better recruit and build teams that possess both the technical skills and experience needed within a programme’s particular sector focus, while ensuring they’re able to work in locally-led and politically smart ways? What should funders be looking for in potential implementers and project teams when commissioning projects?
  • Given the long and adaptive nature of the pathways between intervention and impact when thinking and working politically, what should ‘success’ look like in the short and medium term, and how do we capture this in programme MEL tools?

Overall we hope that those working on programmes might find some similar experiences and challenges and we encourage everyone to begin sharing these more widely to help us all learn how best to transition the TWP approach into the mainstream of large-scale development programming.