2. Using Political Economy Analysis Tools

2.1 Types of PEA

A paper by the Effective States and Inclusive Development team (ESID, 2015) distinguishes between three fundamental types of PEA.

(1) agenda setting or contextual analysis (or 'learning the game')

(2) problem solving analysis ('winning the game') and

(3) influencing analysis ('changing the game')

PEAs can also be done in two may ways:

(1) more in-depth analysis (covered by most the tools in this section) or

(2) regular/ongoing analysis. For example 'everyday political analysis' (by Hudson, Marquette and Waldock, 2016) is a simple, stripped down tool to understand why actors behave in particular ways and what is their ability to bring about change.

Each of these types of PEA can be applied at different levels (global, regional, country, sectoral and sub-sectoral).

This paper aims to show that three different types of political economy analysis: agenda-setting, problem-solving, and influencing analysis, can be tailored to a variety of contexts depending on the development goals and the barriers that exist to development.

This Brief introduces a framework that emphasises the importance of thinking about politics and power in development and demonstrates how it can be used within different development programmes.

2.2 Analytical frameworks

There is a large variety of analytical frameworks which have common features and work through similar steps. We list below a few of the most useful analytical frameworks, starting with the most recent ones:

- USAID Thinking and Working Politically through Political Economy Analysis (USAID, 2018)

- World Bank’s Problem Driven Political Economy Analysis (Fritz, Levy & Ort 2014)

- Oxfam and OPM’s Simple Guide to Conducting Political Economy Analysis (Oxfam and OPM, 2014)

- UNDP's Institutional and Context Analysis (UNDP, 2012)

- European Commission concept paper on ‘Using Political Economy Analysis to Improve Development Effectiveness’ (Unsworth & Williams, 2011) and its annex on country level political economy analysis (EC, 2011).

- DFID's Political Economy Analysis How To Note (DFID 2009)

- The Netherlands' Strategic Governance and Corruption Assessment (SGACA) (CRU 2008)

- DFID’s Drivers of Change Framework (DFID, 2004)

- WWF Strategic Framework - Political Economy Analysis for Conservation Impact (PEACI) (WWF)

As an alternative to PEA, some donors and many Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have employed power analysis frameworks. For example SIDA (2013), Oxfam (2009) and Christian Aid (2012) have used power analysis for years. Petit and Mejia Acosta (2014) argue that political economy and power analysis represent distinct but complementary approaches to making sense of power in the context of development initiatives. The authors note that both approaches are used to provide organisations with a better understanding of key actors and their interests, and of the enabling and constraining structures, conditions, and narratives in which their actions take place. We see such a combination in Christian Aid and Social Development Direct’s (2021) Gender, Inclusion, Power and Politics (GIPP) guidance.

This guidance provides information on how USAID can think and work in ways that are more politically aware — an approach known as “thinking and working politically” through the use of applied political economy analysis. 

This book provides an overview and a set of case studies of the World Bank’s experiences in applying a problem-driven political economy analysis approach to its development programmes, including both successes and failures.

This guide provides practical guidance on how Oxfam undertakes political economy analysis (PEA) to inform operations and programming. It is based on Oxfam’s practical experience of conducting PEA in Myanmar.

This Guidance Note offers ideas on undertaking country level Institutional and Context Analysis (ICA) to develop a Country Programme (Chapter 1) and conducting an ICA at the sector or project level (Chapter 2).

This draft concept paper explains what is meant by political economy analysis, why it matters for understanding development challenges and outcomes, and the implications for donors, particularly the EU.

This annex to the draft concept paper presents an analytical framework for undertaking political economy analysis at the country Level.

DFID's how to note aims to bring together the diverse literature and tools on political economy analysis within a short and accessible document.

The Strategic Governance and Corruption Analysis (SGACA) promotes a more strategic approach to analysing governance and anti-corruption and has been designed as a tool to enhance analysis of the governance climate in recipient countries.

The aim of this guide is to offer practical advice and tools for practitioners and development organisations who are wanting to bring an understanding of power into development cooperation.

How can donors improve their knowledge to support effective change in developing countries?

This article seeks to clarify the similarities and differences between political economy and power analysis, what they each can offer, and how they may be used in complementary ways to make development cooperation more effective and transformative.

WWF’s framework elaborating what PEA is and how to use it to improve programming and policy action on conservation problems

2.3 Analytical tools

The following papers provide useful toolkits for the application of particular analytical approaches when conducting political economy analysis.

- Swiss Development Cooperation has prepared comprehensive guidance on the use of stakeholder analysis (SDC, 2011)

- Analysis of collective action problems from a game theory perspective. See Corduneau-Huci, Hamilton and Masses Ferrer (2013)

- Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation PDIA toolkit: A DIY approach to solving complex problems (2018). See also, the related book: Building state capability evidence, analysis, action (Andrews, Pritchett & Woolcock, 2018)

- Planning and Navigating Social Change –  OXFAM Tools for Pacific Voyagers (Orr et al. 2019)

The following documents present approaches for specific sectors or themes:

- The World Resources Institute’s Guide to Assessing the Political Economy of Domestic Climate Change Governance (Worker and Palmer, 2021)

- Overview of political economy analysis frameworks in the area of climate governance and key issues to consider (Price, 2021)

- Pact’s Applied Political Economy Analysis for Human Rights Programs and Campaigns (Pact, 2019)

- Short guide combining a justice-chain and problem-based approach: Rule of Law Expertise UK's Political Economy Analysis Guide for Legal Assistance (Domingo and Denney, 2017)

- Wateraid political economy analysis toolkit (WaterAid, 2015)

- A five lenses framework for analysing the political economy in regional integration (Byiers, Vanheukelom & Kingombe, 2015)

This report from Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC) presents stakeholder analysis, which allows for identification and analysis of the different stakeholders that determine the success or failure of a development programme.

This book provides the reader with the full panoply of political economy tools and concepts necessary to understand, analyse, and integrate how political and social factors may influence the success or failure of their policy goals.

Drawing from the Building State Capability: Evidence, Analysis, Action book this toolkit attempts to provide a guide to solving complex problems to drive change through analysis of the local context, identifying action steps, taking action, and finally reviewing and adapting.


This book uses a problem-driven iterative adaption approach to identify why some governments lack the capacity to build effective states. It describes how capability traps can be caused by ‘isomorphic mimicry’ and premature load bearing.

This guide offers an assessment methodology to understand how structural factors, rules and norms, stakeholders and interests, and ideas and narratives influence the political economy of climate action in a given country.

WaterAid presents a political analysis toolkit for four different purposes: (1) country strategy PEA, (2) sector strategy PEA (3) tactical PEA, and (4) everyday PEA. For each tool, guidance is provided about use, application, and the implications for development.

This paper introduces a new political economy framework in the form of five lenses that aim to gain a deeper understanding of the political economy features of particular reforms and integration processes.

This guide explains how to undertake an issue-based political economy analysis of the justice chain that legal assistance programmes can draw on to inform and situate their deployment strategies.

This guide from Oxfam Pacific provides a process and tools that prioritise and draw out the rich, often implicit, knowledge that Pacific Islanders have about our contexts to plan and manage social change initiatives in a manner that values and responds to this ocean of relationships.

This rapid review summarises several such frameworks specifically aimed at climate governance issues developed in recent years. It outlines key findings on available frameworks, guidance and tools.   

This summary note summarizes Pact’s key takeaways from the learning review of 10 applied political economy analyses under the Human Rights Support Mechanism (HRSM) from 2017-2018.

2.4 Gender and political economy analysis

Until relatively recently, gender considerations were not always systematically included in political economy analysis (Browne, 2014a; Browne, 2014b). Despite practitioners and donor organisations acknowledging the importance of power dynamics and structures in political economy analysis, gender was often ignored, despite it often being one of the most important dimensions along which power is exercised (Haines & O’Neil, 2018).

However, there is now some excellent literature on the relationship between gender and power relations.  For example, Koester (2015) explores the meaning of power and how a gender perspective help us understand it, as well as the meaning of gender and how a power perspective help us understand it.  She then elaborates the policy and operational messages that follow from a focus on gender and power.

Moreover, development programmes that use political economy analysis have increasingly adopted a gender lens to their analysis. Castilljo, Domingo, George, and O’Connell (2020) pull together discussions from practitioners working on gender equality in conflict-affected environments. They argue that a deeper understanding is needed of gender issues in these contexts and suggest changes to the organisational culture, systems, practices and tools within donor organisations to achieve this. Nazneen, Hickey, and Sifaki (2019) analyse domestic violence legislation in developing countries. They propose a new concept which they call ‘power domains’. Power domains can be used as a way to capture how inter-elite bargaining, coalitional politics, and social movement activism combine to shape policies that promote gender equity.

Some papers also offer practical guidance for how development programmes can better analyse gender issues. Derbyshire, Siow, Gibson, Hudson, and Roche (2018) draws together reflections, approaches and practical lessons from 15 development programs that are seeking both to be gender aware and to understand and engage with power and politics.  Similarly, Derbyshire, Gibson, Hudson, and Roche (2018) analyse previous political analysis case studies that incorporated gender into their analysis and make suggestions for improvements. The authors assess and evaluate programmes in Indonesia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Tonga and draw out lessons from each study. By using a bottom-up approach, development projects could ensure local ownership and focus on gender inequality issues within a specific context. Consequently, practices would be strengthened, and development results would be improved.

This report outlines the gender-focused questions found in common political economy analysis tools and uses gendered focused case studies to provide models of how gender can be included in future political economy analysis for development programmes.

This blog provides a short summary of the Gender in Political Analysis report by Browne (2014).

This guidance note highlights the absence of a gender focus in many politically engaged development projects, demonstrates the importance of incorporating gender in political economy analysis and provides guidance for adopting a gendered focus in practice.

This Concept Brief argues that ‘Gender’ is one of the most persistent causes, consequences and manifestations of power relations. Understanding gender can therefore significantly enhance our understanding of power and vice versa. Koester explores elaborates the policy and operational messages that follow from a focus on gender and power.

This report summaries key discussions amongst practitioners regarding working politically on gender in fragile and conflict-affected settings and then identifies practical implications that can be used in future research. 

Through an investigation into countries that have adopted legislation against domestic violence, this book proposes a new concept - ‘power domains’ - as a way to capture how inter-elite bargaining, coalitional politics, and social movement activism combine to shape policies that promote gender equity.

This paper provides guidance for future development programmes that are seeking to be gender aware and politically informed, by analysing previous political analysis case studies that have used a gender focus and picking out key practical lessons.

This report summaries five lessons that have been learned in practice from the challenges that have occurred in development programmes that have aimed to be politically informed whilst also being gender aware.

2.5 How to manage political economy analysis

There are a number of good guides on how to do PEA, including one by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT, 2016) as well as Whaites (2017)’s excellent Beginners Guide to Political Economy Analysis. USAID has also produced a very helpful check list for missions.

Harris and Booth (2013) highlight five key design issues for PEA studies: 1) selecting from the different models for integrating political economy analysis into operations, 2) how political economy exercises vary in scope and purpose, 3) the appropriate timing of political economy work, 4) defining quality and the necessary skills and expertise, and 5) achieving and monitoring uptake into programmes.

It is critical to value and draw on local expertise as part of a PEA. Jacobstein (2020) offers some tips on learning from context and strengthening local capacity to assess incentives and conduct savvy, adaptive programming from USAID’s experience.

There are benefits but also drawbacks to conducting PEA as an occasional, one-off study contracted to external consultants; alternatives include greater use of in-house resources and slimmed down and accessible analytical frameworks (Marquette and Fisher, 2014). PEA can start small, for example with a short conversation amongst experts and practitioners, before scaling up to include a more in-depth workshop or research agenda (ESID, 2015). Other have also called for more interactive forms of enquiry (Copestake and Williams, 2012).

McGregor et al. (2021) detail RTI’s experience of conducting applied political economy analysis. They suggest that engaging project staff in PEAs increases the likelihood that they will be open to a thinking and working politically mindset and approach. They argue that including gender equity and social inclusion (GESI) considerations can uncover and address hidden power dynamics, and that it can be useful to explicitly connect PEA findings to project implementation (see TWP and adaptive management section of this guide).

The purpose of this DFAT note is to give an overview of the importance of political economy analysis (PEA) by exploring the different approaches to PEA and how to plan and undertake a PEA.

The government’s guide to political economy analysis (PEA) brings together the best materials that are available on the components of PEA, different varieties, and tools for conducting PEA, into one easily accessible document.

This pre-PEA checklist created by USAID helps determine key questions and  points before undertaking a PEA, including participation and team composition.

This note aims to provide basic guidance for newcomers to the field.  It focuses on five issues in political economy analysis: different models; variety of scope; timing; defining quality and skill; and monitoring uptake.

This paper provides USAID’s tips for strengthening local capacity to assess incentives and conduct savvy, adaptive programming. It compiles some good practices in supporting local capacity to Think and Work Politically. 

This paper aims to show that three different types of political economy analysis: agenda-setting, problem-solving, and influencing analysis, can be tailored to a variety of contexts depending on the development goals and the barriers that exist to development.

This paper sets out a framework to address the challenges that arise in political economy analysis due to the differences in commitments, capacity and outlook amongst stakeholders within development programmes.

This paper argues that attempts to mainstream political thinking in most donor agencies have turned a desire to ‘think politically’ into a political economy analysis (PEA) product which has been largely ineffective.  They urge donors to return to throw away this model and rethink the relationship between politics and international development.

RTI’s analysis of 9 Applied Political Economy Analyses (PEAs) demonstrates how PEAs can make positive contributions to technical interventions. Implementation lessons learned include careful consideration of logistics, timing, and team members.