For more than 25 years, and notably since Amartya Sen’s publication “Development as Freedom”, the UN system has recognized the need to reflect on the linkages between economic opportunities, political freedoms, social facilities, transparency guarantees and protective security. Technical solutions, however ably formulated, are not enough: political processes, informal institutions and power relations play a vital role in the success or failure of development interventions. And, development is about much more than what government can or cannot do, or should or should not do.
Successful development assistance requires a deep understanding of the social, economic, political and cultural context in which the UN operates.
Explicit attention to the political economy in which we operate and the consistent application of risk management tools provide an important means towards the understanding that “ …individuals live and operate in a world of institutions, and that our opportunities and prospects depend crucially on what institutions exist and how they function” (Sen).
Different UN agencies have developed and applied different tools and approaches to political economy, and have done so with varying rates of success. What can the UN system learn from existing approaches, how can we bring more consistency and coherence in the way we work as ‘One’, and what does that mean for our development effectiveness?
The UN System Staff College, in partnership with other UN Agencies such as UNFPA and UNDP, has developed a 4-day course focused on strengthening political economy skills for UN programming and policy development. Skills strengthened will support more effective and politically feasible development strategies, ensure more realistic expectations of what can be achieved, and help outline the risks involved.
A strong political economy analysis and risk management approach to UN programming will contribute to enhancing the strategic nature of the UN’s work, and strengthen the UN’s engagement with different actors and sectors by providing frameworks for understanding the various incentives and constraints at the country, sector and project level. A solid political economy analysis will serve as important tools for risk management, and will strengthen the development effectiveness of the UN by focusing on ‘informed choice’ and the possibilities for positive change.