Politics and Power

While the concern for good governance has become widely accepted as a critical condition for advancing development agendas, the question of why democratic politics have not delivered better outcomes for the poor in developing countries remains elusive.

Recent trends challenge the conventional wisdom that democratic institutions are structures of voluntary cooperation, that solve redistributive conflicts and benefit all. A critical approach to the dynamics of power and the interactions between influential stakeholders (business groups, political elites, the military, the media, and international aid system) is necessary to understand why policy decisions may advance the interests of a privileged few at the expense of the less organised or poorly endowed. Often, alternative power dynamics take place outside legal structures through informal institutions or networks, which may contradict, complement or enhance the workings of formal institutions.

Relevant areas of work to understand the multiple dimensions of power include the new roles of private sector investment in providing development opportunities for the poor, the underlying factors facilitating collective action for service delivery, participatory approaches to empower minorities and excluded groups in the policy-making process, the incentives to improve responsiveness and accountability of elected officials, the politics of budget governance, and the politics of international aid among others.

Through our work we aim to inform scholarly debates, as well as influence domestic policymakers, international donors and most importantly the citizens of developing countries on alternative ways to secure greater social justice and equity.

< previous 1 2 next >
Photo of Anuradha Joshi, IDS researcher More details

Photo of Camilla Lindstrom More details

IDS staff or research student More details

Photo of David Leonard More details

Photo of Deepta Chopra, IDS Governance and Gender / Sexuality Research Fellow More details

Photo of Deepta Chopra, IDS Governance and Gender / Sexuality Research Fellow More details

Photo of Dolf te Lintelo More details

Photo of Erika Lopez-Franco, IDS Participation team Research Officer More details

Photo of Fiona Wilson More details

Gauthier Marchais, Research Fellow in the Conflict and Violence research cluster at IDS More details

Photo of Gerry Bloom, Research Fellow of the Knowledge Technology and Society team More details

IDS staff or research student More details

Photo of Hani Morsi More details

Photo of Ian Scoones, Research Fellow More details

Photo of Jeremy Allouche, IDS research fellow More details

Photo of Jo Howard, Research Fellow in the IDS Participation cluster More details

Jody Harris photo More details

Katy Oswald photo More details

Lidia Cabral photo More details

Photo of Lyla Mehta More details

< previous 1 2 next >

Accountability for Health Equity Programme

Since the publication of the 2004 World Development Report a range of different attempts have been made to make the design, prioritisation and delivery of health services more accountable to different stakeholders. However, complex politics and power dynamics can limit or skew people's abilities to access services or hold them to account, particularly for poor and marginalized people. More details

Addressing Synergies and Trade-Offs between Goals for Climate-Resilient Agricultural Systems

What factors lead state and market actors in Africa to commit to implementing more ‘climate smart’ and ‘climate resilient’ agricultural approaches and practices that promoting more sustainable and pro-poor outcomes? This study is examining how different governance systems are handling the complex interface between food, energy, water and climate in pursuit of the SDGs pertaining to these sectors in four countries in Africa. More details

Analysis of Maharashtra’s Decline in Childhood Stunting

UNICEF and IDS are collaborating to undertake an in-depth analysis of the factors that may have led to the 16% decline in child stunting in Maharashtra evidenced in surveys covering the period 2006-2012. More details

Citizen Engagement Programme (CEP)

An empowerment and accountability programme aimed at improving the quality of health and education services in Mozambique. More details

Civic Freedoms, Peace and Sustainable Development

This project aims to make sense of the development impacts of the closing of civil society space. More details

Civil society and the BRICS

The Rising Powers in International Development Programme is looking at the growing role of civil society from the BRICS countries in the field of international development cooperation. More details

Democratisation, Decentralisation, Local Governance: IDS-SDC Collaboration

The aim of this third phase of cooperation between IDS and SDC is to share learning and collaborate on policy engagement in priority areas of decentralised and democratic local governance. More details

Ebola: Lessons for development

IDS researchers argue that there is an urgent need to look beyond the immediate, on-the-ground concerns of disease control and containment to consider the bigger and broader questions about international development. More details

Ethics in the Nutrition Policy Process

The issue of power in food and nutrition governance is under-explored. This research looks at the power of international actors and the (lack of) participation of those experiencing malnutrition in the setting of nutrition policy, as ethical issues. More details

Highlighting the Invisibility of Unpaid Care

This is a three year project explores why unpaid care work is merited little attention in development policy and programming. We are taking an action learning approach to engaging policy actors on unpaid care, tracking the effects, successes and failures of our policy influencing activities. More details

Measuring the Impact of Closing Civic Space on Development

The most immediate and prominent effect of shrinking civic space is its association with declining respect for human rights, in particular civil and political rights such as freedom of expression and association and protection of human rights defenders and minority group rights. More details

National Health Systems From a Comparative Perspective: Studies of Local, Regional and Participatory Management (Decentralisation, Participation and Equity in the English NHS)

This study examines the Brazilian National Health System (SUS) in comparison with the National Health Service (NHS) in England, in order to develop proposals for reform towards an effective, universal, quality health system in Brazil. More details

Poverty, Politics, and Participatory Methodologies in SDC

This Collaboration with the Quality Assurance (QA) Programme of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) is now in its second phase, running until December 2018. The aim of the program is to improve the quality and effectiveness of SDC processes and operations focused on poverty. More details

Power, Violence, Citizenship and Agency

The Power, Violence, Citizenship and Agency (PVCA) project is an action research project designed by researchers at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and carried out with a number of institutional partners. More details

Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability (STEPS) Centre

The STEPS Centre is an interdisciplinary global research and policy engagement hub, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. It aims to develop a new approach to understanding, action and communication on sustainability and development. More details

Sustainable Services at Scale (Triple-S) Initiative

The Triple-S Initiative aims to catalyse systemic change in rural water policies and practices, to move from an infrastructure-based approach towards service delivery approaches. IDS is providing ongoing external learning and methodology support to the initiative. More details

The 'Right to Nutrition' in its Social, Legal and Political Context: A Scoping Study in Two Low-Income Countries

A ‘right to nutrition’ has been suggested as a normative concept that might increase the impact of nutrition policy and action. This research will start to explore the views of those working for improved nutrition, and their understanding of - or desire for - a right to nutrition approach to address the intractable issue of malnutrition and its social determinants. More details

Youth in Fragile Settings

This project aims to build an evidence base that maps the role young people – particularly young women – have played in contributing to processes that sought to or did address fragility as well as examine gaps and challenges with the ultimate aim of increasing the voice and participation of young people around the world. More details

View all Research Theme's publications

Use this search to display this theme's publications and filter by journal, author, country and much more.


IDS publications on international development research

Islam and Feminism: Islam through Safe Feminism?

Contestations: Dialogues on Womens Empowerment 6.1 (2009)

Orientalist discourses may be ripe, but in many contexts, feminists are also practicing self-censorship where critiques of the religious in the political are concerned, out of fear of being hounded upon as being traitors. More details

Bulletin 40.1 cover image

Intergenerational Transmissions: Cultivating Agency?

IDS Bulletin 40.1 (2009)

This IDS Bulletin reflects, as the first in the 40th anniversary volume, on some of the core areas of research and policy advocacy that are central to IDS’ work: inequalities, poverty, power, social protection, transformational education, HIV/AIDS, gender and climate change. More details

IDS Working Paper

Aid, Rents and the Politics of the Budget Process

IDS Working Paper 311 (2008)

This paper analyses the impact of political institutions and budgetary procedures on budget governance in aid- and resource-dependent countries. More details

IDS publications on international development research

Egyptian Women Activists without a Movement

Egyptian women have not retreated from activism altogether. Women workers were the first to strike and female students have been just as active and defiant as their male counterparts. A significant proportion of the property tax workers participating in the sit-ins were women; even the Bedouin women of Sinai have risen to demand freedom for their family members incarcerated after terrorist bombings in 2004. But women have been less active on behalf of explicitly feminist causes. More details

IDS publications on international development research

Democratising Engagement: What the UK can Learn from International Experience

Governments around the world are starting to realise that engaging their citizens more in shaping the decisions that affect their everyday lives improves both legitimacy and the quality of public services. More details

IDS publications on international development research

Rationalizing or Empowering Bureaucrats? Tax Administration Reform in Post-Communist Poland and Russia

Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics 24.1 (2008)

Comparison of the experiences of these two countries suggests that 'empowering' bureaucrats so that the state will be 'strengthened' vis-à-vis society may not provide for as successful an implementation of state policy in the long run as an approach based upon 'rationalizing' the state. More details

Front cover of Bulletin 38.6, State Reform and Social Accountability: Brazil, India and Mexico

State Reform and Social Accountability

IDS Bulletin 38.6 (2008)

This IDS Bulletin focuses on the role of civil society actors in the design of sectoral reforms and the possibilities of social accountability resulting from this role. More details

IDS In Focus Policy Briefing

International Laws and Charters: Global Prescriptions for Effective Reform?

IDS In Focus 3.10 (2008)

Issue 3.10, part of the latest issue of In Focus, called Concern for the Bottom Billion. More details

IDS In Focus Policy Briefing

Military Interventions and Security for the Bottom Billion

IDS In Focus 3.8 (2008)

Part of the latest issue of In Focus, called Concern for the Bottom Billion, which explores the strengths and weaknesses of the policies advocated in Paul Collier's controversial and influential book The Bottom Billion. More details

IDS publications on international development research

The U.S., France and Military Roles in the African ‘Gap’

Review of International Political Economy 15.2 (2008)