Political systems

Political systems are the formal and informal political processes by which decisions are made concerning the use, production and distribution of resources in any given society. Formal political institutions can determine the process for electing leaders; the roles and responsibilities of the executive and legislature; the organisation of political representation (through political parties); and the accountability and oversight of the state. Informal and customary political systems, norms and rules can operate within or alongside these formal political institutions. The development of democratic political systems that provide opportunities for all, including the poor, to influence decision-making, is a critical concern for donors.

This guide considers some of the key questions about how political systems evolve, how they can best foster democratic and inclusive politics, and – crucially for development practitioners – under what conditions they most effectively promote poverty reduction. It focuses on strengthening the accountability, responsiveness and effectiveness of political systems and political governance, and includes guidance and case study materials. The GSDRC’s guide on Political Economy Analysis also deals with these issues.

This guide was prepared by Zoë Scott and Claire Mcloughlin, and was last updated in December 2014. The GSDRC appreciates the contributions of Professor Brian Smith (Department of Politics, University of Exeter), Dr Martin Rew (International Development Department, University of Birmingham), and Stefan Kossoff (DFID).

Suggested citation

Scott, Z. and Mcloughlin, C., (2014). Political Systems: Topic Guide, Birmingham: GSDRC, University of Birmingham, UK