While the main objective of the TWP CoP is to curate, synthesise and share existing knowledge rather than generate new research, on occasion the Thinking and Working Politically Community of Practice commissions publications on topics or questions that are at the cutting edge of development policy and practice. Please take a look below to discover a library for TWP CoP commissioned pieces. For a more extensive list of TWP-related resources that have not been produced directly by the TWP CoP, please visit the ‘Useful resources‘ page, and The Policy Practice’s Online Library.  

Case Study Series: Profiles in Locally Led Approaches to Thinking and Working Politically

The TWP CoP is delighted to support the publication of a case study series sponsored by the DC Working Group on “Profiles in Locally-led Approaches to Thinking and Working Politically”. The series documents the efforts of local organisations and activists at the frontline of development to operate in ways that are anchored in thinking and working politically principles at the country and regional level. Showcasing the experiences and perspectives of Southern-based actors operating across a range of contexts, this series makes an important contribution to the body of evidence  on politically aware and adaptive development. Case studies in the series, which are available on the TWP CoP webpage :

Thinking and Working Politically on the Governance of Extractive Industries

Leila Kazemi, November 2023

Leila is a senior fellow of the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment (CCSI). This reflection piece is based on a CCSI project on the Politics of Extractive Industries that sought to support greater integration of a political lens into efforts of global actors working to improve the governance of extractive industries. Few in a field routinely confronting governance challenges such as corruption, state capture, and lack of accountability rooted in powerful vested interests would dispute that ‘politics matter’. However, there has been less clarity on how it is that politics matter – and what can be done in response. These were the key issues that the Politics of Extractive Industries project sought to address. This piece focuses on the process of trying to get a particular subfield of stakeholders to think and work in more politically aware ways, and not on the substantive outputs of that project as such.

Reflections on my experience as a governance advisor of thinking and working politically in Sierra Leone and Liberia

Dadirai Chikwengo, May 2023

This personal reflections piece by Dadirai Chikwengo has two mutually reinforcing aims: to track her thinking and working politically (TWP) experience as a Governance Advisor and perhaps encourage others to embark on a similar journey; and to add this learning to the growing body of knowledge on TWP. Dadirai discusses how she was initially drawn to TWP, and why she has found it to be a useful approach to inform programming. Drawing on her experiences from Sierra Leone and Liberia, she highlights some of the enablers, opportunities, and challenges in operationalising TWP. She draws particular attention to how the conceptual language of TWP may be alienating, and how she has tried to make those concepts make sense to partner organisations that seek to bring change and transformation in their communities. By way of conclusion, Dadirai offers some practical recommendations to practitioners and signpost useful ‘go to’ areas.

Reflections on Ten Years of USAID Experience with Political Economy Analysis and Thinking and Working Politically

Derick Brinkerhoff and Marc Cassidy, 2023

In December 2022, the TWP CoP, in collaboration with RTI International and Adapt Consult, hosted a webinar on ‘Political Economy Analysis and TWP: Learning from Ten Years of USAID Experience’. This Reflections Note synthesises the key points arising from the webinar, including observations on the impacts, opportunities, challenges, and prospects for PEA/TWP to become more deeply adopted and sustained as a development methodology and approach across sectors. The paper starts by defining key concepts. It then highlights insights from the webinar discussion on the impact of the application of PEA and TWP principles across sectors. The paper concludes by looking at progress achieved to date, as well as constraints and opportunities to increase the uptake of both thinking and working politically in USAID-sponsored programming going forward.

Understanding Political Economy Analysis and Thinking and Working Politically

Alan Whaites, Laure-Hélène Piron, Alina Rocha Menocal and Graham Teskey, 2023

This guide outlines a set of analytical tools that are collectively known as Political Economy Analysis (PEA). The guide aims to equip practitioners to think and work in a politically informed manner, given that foreign policy and development objectives are invariably politically complex, and entail engaging with counterparts’ political incentives and preferences. The guide summarises different types of approaches to undertake PEA – from very light-touch to more in-depth – and provides advice to help foreign affairs and development professionals decide what might be more/less appropriate and feasible in a given context and why, with illustrations based on the experiences of FCDO teams working on these issues. This guide will help practitioners to make use of PEA and to adapt and tailor it to their own specific needs. The first part of the guide offers a general overview of PEA as an analytical approach. The second part provides more specific guidance for those who are tasked with undertaking analysis.

Thinking and Working Politically on African Economic Integration

Dr. Bruce Byiers, 2023

Given the need for regional cooperation to achieve common goals like fostering green industrialisation and post-COVID economic recovery, the ambition to promote regional economic cooperation and integration in Africa is as pressing as ever.  But integrating markets and applying common rules comes with political costs and trade-offs for different groups, and regional organisations often have limited power to enforce implementation of regional agreements. As such, formal commitments to implement common regional trade rules and regulations are often not (fully) implemented, undermining the goals initially sought through cooperation. This note, which builds on an online event that ECDPM convened as part of the TWP Community of Practice Global Webinar Series in June 2022, argues that it is essential to go beyond formal regional strategies and blueprints and to ‘think and work politically’ (TWP) to promote regional cooperation and integration more effectively.

Thinking and Working Politically on Health Systems Resilience: Learning from the experience of Cameroon, Nepal and South Africa during COVID-19

Gareth Williams, 2022

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the resilience of health systems has been severely tested in nearly every country of the world. A variety of contextual political, social, and cultural factors have affected their ability to prepare for, respond to, cope with, recover from and adapt to the crisis, while continuing to provide basic services in equitable ways. This reflection note summarises the main points arising from a webinar held by the TWP CoP on this topic in February 2022, which discussed the experiences from Cameroon, Nepal and South Africa. It defines health systems resilience, analyses how resilient the health systems have been in the three countries, analyses the political economy and governance factors that explain the variation in resilience between the countries, and suggests policy implications that emerge from this comparative country experience. The paper concludes that governance and political economy factors are critical in shaping the resilience of health systems and need more attention in research and policy making.

Thinking and Working Politically: What have we learned since 2013?

Graham Teskey, 2022

The Thinking and Working Politically (TWP) Community of Practice (CoP) was established at a small meeting tacked on at the end of a meeting of Governance Advisers working for the United Kingdom’s Department of International Development (DFID) on South and South-East Asian countries, held in Delhi in November 2013. Since then, a number of meetings have been held throughout the world, each addressing different issues; ‘TWP’ has entered the lexicon of mainstream development; the CoP has expanded to more than 300 people; a Washington DC chapter has been established; and the International CoP has been granted modest funding from DFID’s successor, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). It is legitimate to ask, however, what has been achieved operationally: how have the ideas underpinning TWP affected operational practice?

This short paper traces the evolution of the idea and practice of TWP since 2013, and identifies what we have learned. What has been successful, and what has not?

Thinking and Working Politically in Somalia: A case study of the Somalia Stability Fund

Ed Laws, 2018

The Somalia Stability Fund (SSF) is a multi-donor instrument that aims to strengthen local governance and mitigate conflict in Somalia.  From the outset, SSF has been designed to respond flexibly and rapidly to needs on the ground, to experiment and incur higher levels of  programming risk than is normal, and to adapt in response to learning. SSF’s strategy is also problem-driven: rather than providing a detailed description of a desired end state and a sequence of actions to deliver it, it identifies a core problem at the root of instability in Somalia and decides how to address it. Its aim is to generate a sequence of iterative solutions, and to keep adapting and improving. The Fund is also driven by the principle of ‘local ownership first’, based on the belief that for peace to be sustained, it must be home grown, bottom-up and context-specific.

These principles and features of the program resonate strongly with some core ideas and examples being discussed about how to improve development practice through more politically informed and adaptive ways of working. It is clear that SSF has achieved some significant successes in an extremely challenging and dynamic political environment, which does suggest the value of thinking and working politically in this context. This report looks at three success cases: the Fund’s support to the formation of three nascent federal states; infrastructure investment projects in Balanbale and Abudwak; and the reconciliation process between Galmadug State and Ahlu Sunna Waljama’a. This is followed by a discussion of two of the more challenging investment projects that the Fund has engaged in, focusing on the Hirshabelle State Formation process and the construction of the Baraawe airstrip. The report then looks at the Fund’s work on gender equality, reflecting on its progress in achieving greater formal political representation for women in Somalia, but also some of the significant obstacles that remain in shifting entrenched patriarchal norms.

Thinking and Working Politically: Reviewing the Evidence on the integration of politics into development practice over the past decade

Ed Laws and Heather Marquette, 2018

This paper provides a critical review of the evidence on thinking and working politically (TWP) in development. Scholars and practitioners have increasingly recognised that development is a fundamentally political process, and there are concerted efforts underway to develop more politically-informed ways of thinking and working. However, while there are interesting and engaging case studies in the literature, these do not yet constitute a strong evidence base that shows these efforts can be clearly linked to improved development outcomes. Much of the evidence used so far to support more politically-informed approaches is anecdotal, does not meet the highest standards for a robust body of evidence, is not comparative (systematically or otherwise), and draws on a small number of self-selected, relatively well-known success stories written by programme insiders. The paper discusses the most common factors mentioned in the TWP literature as part of the account for why politically-informed programmes are believed to have been able to succeed in areas where more conventional programming approaches may have fallen short. It then looks at the state of the evidence on TWP in three areas: political context, sector, and organisation. The aim is to show where research efforts have been targeted so far and to provide guidance on where to focus next. In the final section, the paper outlines some ways of testing the core assumptions of the TWP agenda more thoroughly.

The Case for Thinking and Working Politically: the case for ‘Doing Development Differently’

Evidence tells us that domestic political factors are usually much more important in determining developmental impact than the scale of aid funding or the technical quality of programming. Although international development organisations have made extensive efforts to improve the technical quality of programs, in many cases, these improvements have not led to greater impact during implementation.