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Politically smart, locally led development

Authors: Booth, D. & Unsworth, S. 
Publication date: 2014

This paper is a contribution to ongoing debate about the need for donor agencies to think and work more politically. It presents seven cases of aid-funded interventions that show how donors have been able to facilitate developmental change ‘despite the odds’.

The central message is that donor staff were successful because they adopted politically smart, locally led approaches, adapting the way they worked in order to support iterative problem-solving and brokering of interests by politically astute local actors.  

The seven highlighted cases addressed different types of problems, in different contexts. All the interventions resulted in some tangible, short- or medium-term benefits for poor people. In all cases, there is evidence to suggest that the approach adopted was the critical factor in achieving these results. The interventions were also demonstrably more effective than comparable efforts to address similar problems in similar circumstances.

In all the cases, iterative problem-solving, stepwise learning, brokering relationships and discovering common interests were key to success, allowing actors to understand the complex development challenges they faced, identify and negotiate ways forward, and find solutions that were both technically sound (if not optimal) and politically feasible.