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The EU Delegation to Zambia’s Experience of Using Political Economy Analysis

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7 February 2012

Over the past couple of years a number of donor agencies have adopted Political Economy Analysis tools to assist development practice. The European Union Delegation to Zambia recently carried out two pilot political economy studies. Their experience provides lessons for developing an EC tool.

Ten years ago, political considerations were not formally integrated into development practice, according to Sue Unsworth, the lead author of the discussion paper, Using Political Economy Analysis to Improve EU Development Effectiveness. Today, she reflects, donors recognise the need to more systematically think in political economy terms and development.



Political Economy Analysis helps you investigate the political processes of bargaining that are at work between different interest groups in a particular context – a country or sector,” she said in a recent interview for’s “Political Economy in Practice” group.  PEA replaces normative assumptions about how development happens with research steeped in the local political and economic context. “It can identify a lot of things you are already doing, but allow you to do them differently,” she said.

In 2010, Ms Unsworth was part of a team of consultants who supported the EU Delegation to Zambia in conducting two pilot political economy studies: a country political economy assessment and a study of the political economy of the agriculture sector.

“We were experiencing challenges with governance related issues, which were leading to difficulties in implementation,” explained Eric Beaume, the Delegation’s Head of Cooperation, in a telephone interview for “PEA was used to reinforce our analytical capacity, to really have meaningful impact with the cooperation programmes that were being designed,” he said.

With support from EuropeAid Headquarters, the Delegation staff were able to host meetings and, in particular, facilitation work by the consultants. Cooperating partners, including member states, Norway and the World Bank attended a seminar to openly reflect on how some of the core findings of the PEA could help translate the analysis into action.   A country level PEA framework was carried out and followed up an agricultural sector analysis to support the design of possible future EU programmes in Zambia.

Mr Beaume, whilst recognizing that PEA is not completely new in the work of Delegations, is enthusiastic about the introduction of a more structured approach as promoted by the Commission DEVCO services. However, he stressed that it is a demanding exercise that requires time and the involvement of both the colleagues responsible for development cooperation and those in the Political or Economic and Trade Sections. Key staff, like Heads of Delegation and Heads of Cooperation, have to be committed and willing to factor it into their daily work.  “It needs to be a very open process, utilising skillsets of other cooperation partners, if required, to collectively work on some aspects of the political framework… and it would be useful to engage with non-state actors,” he remarked.

The Zambian experience confirmed that PEA should not be limited to a study once in a while but rather is a process with continued inputs from a wide range of stakeholders. In the specific case of Zambia, this was further illustrated by the swearing in of the opposition candidate as new President of the country last September.  This new political development is compelling the Delegation to review some of its analytical work.  “We are trying to see how the government will ensure a balance between the short term objectives that it has set for itself … and looking at the more longer term structural shifts in the country and to see how this will impact the political economy in large,” said Mr Beaume.

For Sue Unsworth, the Zambian case exemplifies some of the ways in which thinking in terms of PEA can change the ways that you behave and operate as a donor. “People there identified the need to find a politically compelling narrative when they engage in policy dialogue, and to try and differentiate between policy options that are politically feasible and those that are just politically not feasible.  …(They also) recognised the importance of empowering Zambian policy makers, for example with good quality research, and engaging local people to find politically attractive ways of disseminating that research.”

Ms Unsworth also noted the benefits of conducting a PEA  can lie simply in the more efficient and effective use of existing information. “What I think it demonstrated was that using this framework …. helps (people) to structure their knowledge, it helps them to see the significance of knowledge they already have, it helps to legitimise that knowledge,” she said. “There was a sense that people were using knowledge that sometimes is only used in unofficial discussions … they were finding ways in which it can actually be applied to how you do business, day to day.”

Contributors to this collaborative piece:  Sue Unsworth, Eric Baume, Chantal Marijnissen and Gareth Williams. The views, opinions and the content herein do not represent the official view of the European Commission. Multimedia and collaboration facilitated by EuropeAid's team


DISCLAIMER: This information is provided in the interests of knowledge sharing and capacity development and should not be interpreted as the official view of the European Commission, or any other organisation.

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