Every Day Political Analysis

5 Jun

On studying this module I have learnt about the importance of working politically in development, and the importance of this extending beyond the traditional enclaves of politics (e.g. government institutions). I have also learnt more about how change happens, from the individual level to the societal level and the different roles ‘norms’ (societal, religious, cultural, political and economic) can play in achieving change. I also learnt that change is often not linear. It can feel intimidating in terms of how to turn all of this new knowledge into practice. To sum up my learning in this module, I took one of the tools we learn about ‘Everyday Political Analysis’ and analyzed how well I had applied in a past situation, where I had to show a sensitivity to politics.

The Situation

On signing a new contract for DFID there was a clause in the contract that had changed from last time we worked with them. The contract effectively barred NGOs from using DFID money to pay for medical or any other kind of insurance. We decided that we wanted to challenge DFID’s position on this through advocating with our Fund Manager. We perceived that the situation was political, as DFID and the Fund Manager held most of the power. We were also at the final stage, just before implementing the project where to completely pull out would not have been an option.

Understanding Interests

The first recommendation in the Everyday Political Analysis (EPA) paper is to understand interests.  This can be applied to understanding our own interests as activists, as well as those we wanted to advocate with.  As well as understanding DFID, we also had to bear in mind the interests of the fund manager; although they needed to speak the same lines as DFID they also will have a vested interest in keeping NGOs happy as the agents of the fund. We understood the constraints of the fund manager would not want to antagonize DFID without good reason, so it was very important for us to present evidence and work as coalition with other NGOs.

Understanding the Change

Under this section, EPA recommends identifying decision makers, looking for coalitions, having clarity on decision points, framing the discussion and having a greater awareness of what else might be at stake. Firstly, I sent out a blanket email to other participating NGOs in the fund to ask about whether there was an appetite to challenge the ruling. I did not follow the EPA guidance on looking beyond the usual suspects as most of the NGOs I messaged I was already aware of, and they were all northern based NGOs. It would have been powerful to have a greater range of viewpoints.  I also did not analyse what other stakeholders could have been involved. We found out too late that Bond (an umbrella group for development NGOs) was conducting a similar piece of work, which could have saved us a lot time. Our choice of ‘key decision maker’ was informed by their status in the organization, but also their appetite to receive challenge and criticism from NGOs. We also thought about how we would frame the discussion. We knew that DFID did not want to hear about NGO’s cash strapped budgets, instead we focussed on the lack of established national health care in the countries where we worked. Next, we collectively agreed on the points to raise and sent two representatives to meet with the fund manager (despite being a coalition of 16 INGOs). We understood that from the fund manager’s point of view, to attend on mass could have been perceived as threatening.

In the end, we achieved partial success in we won the right to apply for an exception to the rule. From this example, I learnt that I had already been applying some of the thought processes mentioned in the EPA paper. Now that I have a greater awareness of how to work politically, I will be able to address some of the gaps in my analysis in future situations. It also demonstrated that new processes and theories suggested by Academics and Practitioners in development are often being practiced in one form or another by those working in the sector. New ideas and theories can help us tweak and qualify our practices to make us more efficient.


Hudson, D., Marquette, H. and Waldock, S. (2017). Everyday Political Analysis. 1st ed. [PDF] Birmingham: Development Leadership Programme. Available at: http://publications.dlprog.org/EPA.pdf [Accessed 5 Jun. 2017].

Theory of Change Approaches

5 Jun

This week we have been studying social movements and citizen activism, and one of the topics that came up was ‘theory of change’ (ToC) as a tool for mapping out approaches to societal change. I found this quite interesting as a fundraiser, most of my job is to create ToC diagrams as part of the project development process.  Although I don’t often work on activism programmes, most of the projects I design are trying to achieve some level of social change. As one of key buzzwords in development, it is important to articulate your ToC  effectively.  A theory of change is defined as ‘is essentially a comprehensive description and illustration of how and why a desired change is expected to happen in a particular context’. It helps to link activities in your NGO project to expected outcomes and results. In his book, How Change  Happens, Duncan Green describes a theory of change as a ‘compass’ not a map, and claims that a theory of change approach encourages more reflective and iterative programming.

In my experience, it depends on how it used and which donors you are working with. My organisation was recently awarded a large grant as part of DFID’s Girls’ Education Challenge. We were asked to produce a theory of change for our programme and then translate this into a log frame. In order to do this successfully, both documents had to be fairly linear (e.g if we do x, we will achieve y) which contradicts the flexibility that a ToC approach usually allows.  Our programme is designed to enable girls with disabilities in Kisumu, Kenya to transition to secondary school. Girls with disabilities face immense barriers to education, including physical infrastructure, discrimination, stigma and poverty. One of the key outcomes we are hoping for our project is to increase the self esteem of girls (our intermediate outcome) in order for them to have better life chances (our outcome).  To borrow from Duncan Green’s book, especially with girls with disabilities, there is a need to foster ‘power within’ as girls with disabilities are often routinely disenfranchised by their communities and sometimes their own households (often unwittingly by well-meaning caregivers). From sustainability point of view, LCD won’t always be in the region to support people with disabilities to claim their rights. We also hope that our project can act as a spring board to develop the disability movement’s future activists. To start with we need to help them to see themselves as agents of change rather than dependants of the state or a ‘burden’ on their families.

In order to achieve increased self esteem, in our log frame we have linked a number of activities that we hope will have a direct impact (mentoring, life skills training, counselling and opportunities for the girls to take on leadership roles).  However, I am not 100% convinced that a linear theory of change is helpful way to think about self esteem.  It is a very personal concept, and what has an impact on self esteem is not linear in my opinion.  Green expresses some reticence with the ‘power within’ approach as it can oversimplify the complex change a person has to go through in order to change deep seated beliefs about themselves. Attending a seminar on confidence building won’t necessarily make you more confident over night, and I am inclined to agree with him.

There will be activities both in and outside of the realm of the project that will have an impact on a girls’ self esteem. For example, our project does not include a WASH element but if a girl does not have the ability to wash herself effectively because her household does not have access to a good water supply, this might have an effect on her self-esteem and no manner of life skills trainings will change how she feels. Conversely, one of the project activities is the provision of new uniforms, which although we have not linked it directly to boosting self esteem, it could also have an impact.

Does the set up of our theory of change matter, as long as we achieve the outcomes in the end? Not necessarily, as long as the project is given the freedom to change activities that are not having an impact on the intended goals. We may also score low on some of our indicators for the reason of them being in the ‘wrong’ place on the log frame, which could have impact on the way our project is perceived by the donor. In reality, donors should realise that change, especially on a very personal level is messy and hard to impact, as people have incredibly complex internal lives.  That is to say it is not worth doing activities in this area just because it is hard to measure. In order to counteract this, we need to build in more feedback loops into our projects to really understand what, if any impact we are having on the way the girls feel about themselves.  My advice for the donor, is to move away from rigid log frames and back towards using a ToC approach that allows NGOs a bit more freedom to show complexity and interlinkages between different activities in programmes.


Green, D. (2016). How Change Happens. Oxford University Press: Oxford.






Religion, Abortion and HIV/AIDs Strategies

5 Jun

Gerard Clarke writes that there is renewed interest from some donors, such as DFID to engage critically with faith based organisations (FBOs) as agents of development. He also writes that there is often a perceived tension between religion and development.  Large Faith Based NGOs such as World Vision, CAFOD and Christian Aid are extremely influential in the development sphere, but smaller FBOs based in country are also central to a country’s development. They have a large reach, have influences over the behaviours of their followers and often run social services such as hospitals and schools.

Although there are many positives in engaging with FBOs in development, some of the areas where I can see that religion and development could most seemingly clash is HIV/AIDS prevention and access to abortion. In his article, Clarke goes onto highlight the rise of evangelical and Pentecostal faiths in America, and how this influences USAID Foreign Policy. He further explains that there has been a softening of the rules around what FBO organisations can do with USAID money, and there had been a blurring of lines between development, humanitarian assistance and spreading religious messages. One of the ways we can see the influence of the religious right happening in real time is through the most recent ‘Global Gag Rule’. Trump’s Global Gag rule, with its foundation in the religious conservatism and the Republican Party, extends the powers of previous gag rules in its impact on women’s rights. This rule bans US funding from being used by organisations who promote abortion services in the developing world. Under the previous rule, reinstated by George Bush and rescinded by Obama, organisations offering abortion services and advice could still receive funding as long as they used other donor funding to provide abortion services and referrals. Trump’s rule is more comprehensive, and organisations will have to stop providing abortion services altogether if they want US funding. Marie Stopes International believes that this rule will cause 21700 unnecessary maternal deaths before the end of Trump’s term.

It is important to remember that people who are anti-abortion come from all faiths and none and those actively opposing the Global Gag Rule come from all sections of the religious and non religious spectrum. However, many columnists still make the link between the religious right in America and the enactment of this new rule, the New York times has gone as far as to claim that the Trump is the Religious Right’s ‘trojan horse’. Other columnists have also gone onto to say that the global gag rule ‘stinks of neo-colonialism’ and hypocrisy as (for the moment at least) American women can access abortion in the United States. Why should it be different for women in developing countries?

In terms of messages relating to HIV/AIDS religious organisations are in a privileged position to influence behaviour change, especially since Pentecostal and Evangelical religions are on the rise in Africa. In her analysis on the subject, Pugh highlights some of the risks religious dialogues can place on HIV/AIDS strategies. On the one hand, she quotes studies that show that through advocating for abstinence before marriage and faithfulness during marriage, faith can curb new infections of HIV/AIDs. However, she also finds evidence to support the fact that Pentecostal faiths can reinforce the subjugation of women within relationships, making them less able to negotiate safe sex. Pugh also recognises, and cites case studies to show that if religious leaders can be trained in the science behind HIV/Aids prevention that they can become powerful advocates for condom use. Although, this would depend on the leader themselves and their ability to approach delicate subjects with their congregation.

Should religious ideology and the politics of sexual and reproductive health ever mix? To answer, ‘no’ to this question would over-simplify the issue.  Haynes states that a persons identity is based on ‘shared values, beliefs or concerns that not only concern religion’ and although Haynes was referring to a person’s relationship with the state, decisions relating to sexual and reproductive health will also be informed by multiple factors.   In my opinion, religious organisations do have a greater responsibility to promote what I would term ‘socially conscious’ messaging (pro-condom use, pro-choice) to ensure they are not doing harm in the communities where they are working (although I appreciate that many would disagree with my view on what counts as socially conscious). For organisations, such as donors like USAID, the burden is even greater as they have the power to withhold or give funding to encourage or stop activities depending on whether they conform to the ideology behind the Global Gag Rule. This, in my opinion is a dangerous thing for women in the developing world as it takes away women’s ability to make their own decisions based on their own beliefs, which reduces their agency and individualism.

Clarke, G. (2007). Agents of transformation? donors, faith-based organisations and international development. Third World Quarterly, [online] 28(1). Available at: http://www.tandfonline.com.ezproxye.bham.ac.uk/action/showCitFormats?doi=10.1080%2F01436590601081880 [Accessed 5 Jun. 2017].

Pugh, S. (2011). Examining the Interface between HIV/AIDS, Religion and Gender in Sub-Saharan Africa. Canadian Journal of African Studies, [online] 44(3), pp.624-643. Available at: http://www.tandfonline.com.ezproxye.bham.ac.uk/doi/abs/10.1080/00083968.2010.9707548 [Accessed 5 Jun. 2017].


Working with Authoritarian Regimes

16 Apr

At the time of writing, the EU is still imposing sanctions on Robert Mugabe and his wife, but other sanctions such as those effecting the disbursement of aid from the EU to Zimbabwe have been cautiously lifted and the EU has begun making disbursement of aid. We can perhaps assume that since the sanctions have no substantial effect in changing the regime of Zimbabwe to be more inclusive that the EU is trying a different tack.

Some development thinkers, such as Larry Diamond, believe that democracy is in decline. Although Diamond writes that as democracy is hard to measure, he argues that we can observe that the quality and stability of democracy is in flux. Countries that are autocratic tend to be at the bottom end when ranking achievements of MDGs (although there are always exceptions) according to analysis presented by the Development Leadership Programme. From this evidence is seems that the development actors will increasingly need to engage critically with autocratic or unstable governments in order to reach poor populations.

Techniques, such as imposing sanctions to force the government to act have not been successful in Zimbabwe. Initiatives that bypass the government in favour of reaching populations directly can have an impact but inversely create sustainability problems long term (this can be observed in Haiti). More extreme measures, such as forcibly removing dictators through military intervention can have disastrous and long term negative impacts. Now that the EU has begun giving developmental aid to Zimbabwe again, the most recent calls for proposals for INGOs and in country partners to respond to have been on human rights and democratic participation. The Roadmap, which the EU uses as basis for constructing calls for proposals has been developed with government of Zimbabwe. It seems that the EU is placing greater emphasis on the ‘bottom up’ approach to governance reform through encouraging support for local civil society.

Advice and strategies on how to work with autocratic regimes from a civil society perspective come from academic literature as well as from the partners themselves. Duncan Green advises that autocratic regimes respond better to evidence based asks from activist. LCD’s partner in Zimbabwe, based on their experience in disability rights promotion also recommends emphasising the positive work the government is doing rather than focusing overly on the negative. As Green states, states are not homogeneous  some aspects of government will be more inclusive than other areas. Development agencies should identify these pockets of good practice, and perhaps use them as a way in to start working with governments. It is clear that foreign donors, if we are to learn lessons from history cannot stand idly by as dictators pillage resources from their country, but the most successful and long lasting change can only happen from within. It will be interesting in this particular instance how receptive the Government of Zimbabwe is to civil society groups calling for their rights, given their historic record of human rights abuses and restrictions on civil society.


Green, D. (2016). How Change Happens. Oxford University Press: Oxford.
Diamond, L. (2015). Facing up to the Democratic Recession. Journal of Democracy, 26(1), pp.141-155.
Kelsall, T. (2014). Authoritarianism, democracy and development (online) Developmental Leadership Programme, Available at: http://publications.dlprog.org/SOTA3.pdf [accessed 5th June, 2017)

Applying the Principles of Thinking and Working Politically

6 Apr

This week we have been studying  the ‘Thinking and Working Politically’ (TWP) Agenda. It became clear to me that TWP isn’t just about inviting ministers workshops so you can tick the box that says ‘stakeholder engagement’. Instead, it challenges you to really understand the political dimension of the context you are working within.  The community of practice is predicated on the idea that projects succeed or fail dependent on how well the project navigates and responds to domestic political factors.

Project teams that are ‘Thinking and Working Politically’ should:
• Have a deep understanding of context
• Conduct political analysis of the context – understand power structures and identify the key players
• Ensure that projects are locally owned from the beginning and move from applying best practice in favour of starting with the realities
• Be flexible and adaptive throughout the programming cycle

The aspects of the TWP agenda that mean that donors have to become more flexible is harder to envisage becoming a reality.  Within the sector we are bound to log frames which require us to have everything worked out for the beginning. This does not lend itself to adaptive programming, and in general donors make the process of changing a project half way through quite laborious at times.

However, it is my belief that development practitioners can apply TWP in their work to strengthen the contextual analysis behind their programmes, and eventually the donors may catch on.  This week I have been trying (failing!) to think and work politically as part of my job in programme development for an International NGO.

Recently I was working with a local partner in Zimbabwe to design a project working with Disabled Peoples’ Organisations (DPOs) to help them influence national policy. Through two skype calls we designed what we thought was a great project that would build the capacity of umbrella DPOs in Zimbabwe. We felt pretty confident that both DPOs would participate, as who could turn down free capacity building?! However,  when we tried to get the DPOs on board we were met with resistance. It seems that the two umbrella DPOs in Zimbabwe were both fighting for the same space and would not agree to work together.  One of the DPOs was also a key partner organisation of our competitor and was uneasy about working with us. It was clear that we should have applied TWP, and completed an analysis of the different players before embarking on our design. It may have also helped if we had contacted the DPOs in the very initial stages to shape the project, instead of going in with preconceived ideas.  Incidentally, this example also demonstrates how through working with local civil society, INGOs can exacerbate conflict between different partners.

In the end, we had to reformulate our approach to the programme, and agreed only to work with one DPO. This made us slightly uneasy as we were not sure that the DPO that agreed to work with us was really representative of the whole movement. However, we could not think of a better solution at the time.  Our next task was to identify which departments we needed to target for our policy programme and what approach we would take. The programme we designed was aiming to galvanise young members of DPOs to claim their democratic rights . Through analysing the context carefully, we knew that the government would naturally be wary of youth advocacy programmes around election time. We held a workshop with the young people to design activities, and used the expertise of our local partner to help guide the discussion. This ensured the programme was locally led and would maximise our chances of achieving our policy aims within the restricted environment.

On reflection, we did not too badly in applying the principles of TWP. The ability to be flexible in our approach will be down to the donor if the project is successfully funded. One area that we neglected was examining the ‘every day’ politics of working with other organisations, which can also make or break a programme if they are not considered. Some of our experiences in working with civil society also echoed the concerns mentioned in Carothers, and my organisation could also make a concerted effort to work with other INGOs to ensure our efforts to work with civil society are cohesive.

If you would like to have a go at applying TWP to your own practice – here is a link to the TWP school of practice: https://twpcommunity.org/


Carothers, T. and De Gramont, D. (2013). Development Aid Confronts Politics. 1st ed. Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace