TNRC Blog | Putting political economy analysis into practice: Using political economy for environmental anti-corruption theories of change

Putting political economy analysis into practice: Using political economy for environmental anti-corruption theories of change

This blog post captures insights from a TNRC Learning Series webinar that introduced a new guide on Integrating Political Economy Analysis (PEA) findings into theories of change (ToC) to address corruption that undermines conservation objectives. The webinar was held on 18 December 2023. Panelists discussed the utility of PEAs for designing, testing, or adapting ToCs, identified challenges to using PEA, what conditions have enabled uptake, and offered insights into context-specific PEA approaches and their applications. A recording of the webinar is above and a PDF of the slides can be downloaded here.

Key Takeaways

  • Corruption is frequently the elephant in the room that we need to understand and address in order to prevent it from undermining conservation results. Increasing political awareness can help us to pay more explicit attention to risks, unpack how our work might have unforeseen impacts, and make more informed decisions about where and how we shape strategies to better safeguard people and nature.
  • Theories of Change (ToCs) outline what needs to change in order to deliver on a specific aim and contribute to impacts, along with the kinds of things that need to happen to get to that change. A ToC and a related results framework also detail the activities that will be pursued to make those differences. Understanding more about who has power – to make change, to impede change – and how they get and use that power, helps to clarify the conditions that need to change to achieve conservation results.
  • Political Economy Analysis (PEA) is fundamentally about power, who holds it, how it is used, and for what purposes. As such, PEA is a tool for identifying basic hypotheses and/or teasing out assumptions that lie behind those hypotheses. It helps signal when assumptions may be invalid or may pose a risk to the objectives that otherwise might not have been identified.
  • This guide outlines six steps for bringing PEA findings into a ToC for a conservation project or program. It shares specific case studies on how certain conservation approaches have been adapted to changing contexts, and how PEA has been used to identify viable entry points. It’s a great place for conservationists to get started.
  • Conservationists can face a few challenges when conducting PEAs and applying learning from PEA to their work. It may seem daunting to try and address highly politicized obstacles. Some worry about bandwidth and capacity constraints. As a result, PEAs can be contracted out, or seen as a box to tick, and their findings end up at arm’s length from implementation.
  • This new guide and webinar show that many of these perceptions can be overcome. PEA is as much about knowing what questions to ask as it is about specific technical expertise. Further, political economy dynamics are not inherently negative – often, strengthening understanding and working to political realities can unearth new, more viable and positive opportunities for change. Getting to this place requires strengthened collaboration to bridge the skill sets of those who do PEA and those who work in conservation.

© Vecteezy / Aleksandr Mansurov

Image attribution: © / Jen Guyton / WWF; © Brian J. Skerry / National Geographic Stock / WWF; © Georgina Goodwin / Shoot The Earth / WWF-UK; © Hkun Lat / WWF-Aus