Towards a politics-conscious Project Cycle?

Working in politics means conjugating with an ever-evolving, ever-mutating environment within which factions and factors multiply and interact without interruption. To conduct our work in such fluctuating conditions, it is essential for Global Partners Governance to proactively and deliberately incorporate politics into our project cycle so as to ensure that evaluation and action inform and keep up with each other. Our README cycle, described in this blog, ensures that political analysis remains a constant features of the way we work towards institutional change.

R – Research/Refine the problem

The project begins by defining the problem at hand. This happens in three stages:

Firstly, we identify the main manifestations of the issue, a crucial starting point to comb out the least relevant elements to contextualise the project and its needs.

Secondly, we map out the actors and stakeholders, paying particular attention to how power is distributed and establishing entry points. When working with political institutions, knowing where power and influence are held is essential to find out who can enable change and who can obstruct it.

Thirdly, we analyse stakes. Figuring out who could profit from change and who would lose from it helps us pinpoint potential hindrances and incentives and anticipate resistance further along the project timeline.

E – Engage

With this knowledge in mind, we can move on to the next stage of the cycle. At this point, it is time to engage our different stakeholders by highlighting competing interests and agreeing on ways to balance and manage them. This can of course not be resolved in one session, and it will be crucial to capture the diversity of viewpoints within the institution to reinforce and redefine our perspective of the problem. This iterative process will help up refine our knowledge and let it inform our actions moving forward.

This stage provides the opportunity to support coalition-building among stakeholders by finding shared interests and aligning their goals while highlighting to them what they have to lose by choosing inaction.

A – Agree

We then build on the work we conducted with the stakeholders to agree on the project’s strategy, on the content that is needed, and on appropriate indicators to monitor its progress. More detailed reform plans are established and local ownership is asserted. Here again, this requires back and forth between different factions, compromise and negotiation, as this iterative process will allow us to best polish an approach that accounts for contrasting interests and informs our understanding of the context.

It is essential to develop the project’s strategy hand-in-hand with local stakeholders as it will secure the buy-in that we crucially need to deliver sustainable change. Without this local involvement, we risk producing a project that does not meet its beneficiaries’ needs, lacks nuance, and relies on irrelevant indicators that it struggles to hit.

D – Deliver

For the complex and challenging delivery stage, we seek to implement the reforms on which our stakeholders agreed while monitoring the evolution of the project and making necessary adjustments. This is easier said that done, and the reality of politics will require compromises to be made and new goals and agreements to be arranged as the project unfolds. As they adjust their plans, project staff must be both adaptable and realistic: in this evolving environment, they must distinguish changes necessary for the project’s outcome from impossible attempts to make everybody happy.

“Hold-ups and disruptions are inevitable, and multiple project streams make it easier to create the space to adapt to shifting interests, and maintain momentum, without the whole programme stalling.”

The astute project manager will equally know to be reactive when, in this fast-changing context, an unexpected opportunity for reform or coalition arises. While these cannot be anticipated at the planning stage, such chances must be seized and exploited to develop new routes to achieving our objectives.

M&E – Monitor and Evolve

M&E is of course not the final step of our project cycle, but a constant requirements for the health of the project. We must ensure that we regularly incorporate opportunities for assessment and adjustments to each stage of the process to deliver institutional change that has remained relevant to its context at every opportunity.

“There will though be points in the project where there needs to be a more strategic consideration of the original project strategy, logframe and indicators, which will depend almost entirely on the strength of the political analysis during the preceding phases.”

When working in a political environment in particular, it is crucial to have a logframe that accounts for the nature of this context, especially if donors are going to expect it to be followed closely. To that end, we strongly support thorough political economy analyses at the starting stage of the project to anticipate and reflect the potential obstacles to expect during delivery. Detailed political analysis is therefore the key to GPG’s work and a founding stone of our approach. It is greatly supported by our team of expert Associates who bring their first-hand knowledge and advice to each of our projects. However, changing the goals originally established to best respond to those changes will require some analysis and research – and so, the project cycle starts again.

To read about the README cycle in more detail, we encourage you to explore our paper on the topic. For more about GPG’s Politically Agile Programming, including our KAPE (Knowledge, Application, Practice, Effect) methodology, visit our Publications page.