New Pact guidance to help development practitioners make more informed, politically smart decisions

October 5, 2023

Political economy analysis helps development programs avoid “messing things up” and navigate complex political dynamics to reach their objectives. But, these exercises can be confusing, alienating or exclusionary to all but the “experts” in the methodology. Today, Pact released an updated suite of tools for practitioners designing and conducting Applied Political Economy Analysis (APEA) exercises. These tools are intended to demystify the process so that project teams can own and lead the process rather than relying on outside resources.

“APEA is a tool that helps project teams understand the interests and incentives that explain the decisions and behaviors of key actors in their sector, geography or system,” says Kate Byom, deputy director of governance at Pact. “APEA allows teams to make more informed and politically smart decisions.” 

Under the USAID-funded, Freedom House-led Human Rights Support Mechanism (HRSM), we mainstreamed APEA across a range of human rights programs and undertook two learning reviews examining the use and value of APEA. Based on the findings of these learning reviews, as well as our use of APEA across 12 HRSM programs and 25 non-HRSM programs, we have made improvements to our existing guidance document and created additional resources to help project teams conduct effective and inclusive APEAs that help them think and work politically. Newly released tools include:

Introductory Videos
Our experience has shown that many staff and partners who have never engaged in a process like APEA benefit from a short introduction to the concept before engaging in substantive discussions about how it could be applied in their program. To help ensure local ownership of the exercise rather than a top-down process, two brief introductory videos equip newcomers with basic knowledge about the methodology so they can engage from a more informed starting point. The first video introduces the concept of APEA in a simplified manner and the second video explains the basic process for conducting an APEA. 

Guide for Practitioners
We have substantially updated our APEA guide, making improvements based on findings from learning reviews and feedback from practitioners. Pact first released its APEA guidance for human rights practitioners in 2018 and while it is widely applicable to practitioners in any sector, it is one of the few resources that provides specialized guidance on the methodology for human rights programs. The guide is currently available in English, French and Spanish.

The revised guidance is designed to offer advice and examples in response to common pain points and to democratize the methodology so it can be more readily owned and implemented by anyone looking to operate in a politically smart manner. Key improvements include:

  • Inclusive and gender-responsive APEA: This edition includes a new section focused on integrating gender and social inclusion into APEA study design and data collection. It includes practical guidance on crafting core and supporting research questions, drafting interview questions and ensuring that interview questions reflect gender and social inclusion, developing APEA recommendations, and using inclusive and gender-responsive data collection processes. 
  • Choice points: The guide prompts APEA researchers to make decisions that promote more equitable outcomes and do not reinforce the status quo or existing power dynamics. These “choice points” throughout the guide offer practical advice related to more inclusive research design, respondent selection, research team composition and dissemination of findings.
  • Process advice: Our new edition provides resources on the practicalities of implementing the APEA methodology, including detailed guidance and examples on processes such as developing interview guides, notetaking, structuring debriefs and analyzing data. It also includes a robust data ethics section with more comprehensive guidance on informed consent, along with sample text.
  • Ongoing APEA, Thinking and Working Politically (TWP) and adaptive management: The updated information includes more robust guidance on how to conduct ongoing, iterative APEA in order to provide the structure in which teams can anchor their TWP mindset and elaborates on APEA as part of an adaptive management system, drawing heavily from our adaptive management guidance

Alongside the second edition guide for practitioners, we also developed a companion toolkit with tools for operationalizing APEA. This toolkit, which was born out of the first APEA learning review focused on operational lessons, offers templates and checklists for teams to carry out APEA and action their findings and recommendations. The toolkit, which is available in English, French and Spanish, includes a questionnaire for determining whether APEA is the right tool for the project, checklists for project teams and lead researchers, a sample agenda for a post-APEA debrief meeting, and templates for tracking uptake of APEA recommendations and adaptive management decisions.

Given the value of APEA for projects as they navigate political barriers and opportunities, we hope that these new resources will provide new and creative ways to address common pain points and help make the methodology more accessible to a wide range of practitioners.

APEA Resources