Political dynamics and the effectiveness of aid programmes


What evidence is there that local political dynamics are explanatory factors for the success or failure of aid programmes? Provide examples, drawing on aggregated analyses of aid projects, where available.


There is an increasing recognition amongst development scholars and practitioners that the obstacles to effective change in developing countries are not only related to technical or financial issues, but are also bound up with domestic politics and power relationships (DfID 2010a; DfID 2010b; Di John and Putzel, 2009; Leftwich: 2011; Parks and Cole, 2010; DFID 2016). As a result of the growing appreciation of the political barriers to development, donors and research organisations have developed a range of analytical frameworks and diagnostic tools to help navigate the political and economic conditions which can restrict the effectiveness of aid programmes.

Key findings include:

  • There are a number of aggregated studies which identify political economy variables as key to explaining the effectiveness of aid programmes. These factors include the degree of political stability and cohesion in recipient countries, the presence of sound fiscal policies and institutions, and the strength of interest groups within parliament.
  • There is also a growing appreciation in academic and grey literature of the importance of political factors in accounting for the effectiveness of aid programmes in individual cases. There has been a tendency in this literature to focus on agential factors and in particular the role of elites engaging in corruption, clientelism and rent-seeking.
  • Aid projects can also be undermined by a lack of ownership on the part of recipient governments or the wider public, and through a failure on the part of donors to establish effective partnerships with local reformers.
  • Donors need to be alert to windows of opportunity to push through reforms. Notwithstanding the importance for donors of moving quickly enough to keep abreast of country-level political developments in recipient countries, micro-level features of the public administration can also frustrate the implementation of development projects.

Suggested citation

Laws, E. (2016). Political dynamics and the effectiveness of aid programmes (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 1361). Birmingham, UK: GSDRC, University of Birmingham.