Skip to main content
Community Contribution

We’re Development Practitioners Who Know Politics. Here Are Our Top Recommendations for Thinking and Working Politically

May 16, 2016
Liz Ruedy, Matthew Baker

This blog post originally appeared on the International Republican Institute (IRI)'s blog, Democracy Speaks, on May 6, 2016.

Image of two people speaking in an officeThe concept of “Thinking and Working Politically” is gaining traction in the development community. 

It is based on the idea that development happens within a political context, and that development effectiveness depends on the overall political motivations that drive stakeholders’ actions – and that all aid is therefore “political”. How does one incorporate political analysis to overall development assistance? Thinking and working politically” has been used to describe a number of different processes, from informal rolling interviews with program partners or beneficiaries to full-scale, formal political economy analysis. 

But thinking and working politically clearly is about more than just implementing a tool. It’s about connecting existing and trusted relationships with political stakeholders to program management, and informing the daily decisions that development practitioners make to ensure our programs are relevant, responsive, effective and sustainable. Further, it’s about making sure that our understanding of the political environment is dynamic and able to keep pace with the complexity of political change. 

As an organization dedicated to advancing democracy worldwide, IRI’s staff are not only involved in “Politics” (with a capital P), but also (small-P) “politics” – the whos, hows and whys of decision-making that are the very core of thinking and working politically. Based on their collective political experience in contexts ranging from the most grassroots community networks to the national government, and from countries all over the world, we asked IRI staff to explain how they do it. How does IRI’s approach to thinking and working politically ensure that we use every opportunity, even the informal ones, to better understand the context in which we’re working? How do we continue to build that understanding as a program progresses? Here are a few tips from our experts.

1) Invest time and resources in networking

Relationships are key.  Contacts and networks that yield real, “insider” knowledge are the result of years of relationship-building. In the countries where we work, IRI has created networks of depth, breadth and variety, because we invest the time – sometimes over years – to reach out to everyone from national leadership to elected officials throughout the country to community activists and national and local civil society organizations. Building relationships based on trust means that when we ask about questions about how political developments might affect our programs, we’re more likely to get an unvarnished, candid response.

Read the full blog post on IRI's blog, Democracy Speaks.