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.

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Photo of Anuradha Joshi, IDS researcher More details

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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

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

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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

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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

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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

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Democratisation, Decentralisation, Local Governance: IDS-SDC Collaboration

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Ebola: Lessons for development

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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

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

Pathways of Women's Empowerment Research Programme Consortium

Pathways is a research and communication programme which seeks to discover where women are achieving real gains despite or because of policy and practice. It looks at how this has happened, and aims to make these pathways visible so that we can build on these revealed successes. More details

Poverty, Politics, and Participatory Methodologies in SDC

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Power, Violence, Citizenship and Agency

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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

Strengthening core state functions to mitigate and prevent different manifestations of violence

In the context of exploring the dynamics and logics of violence and responses to it by the state and the international community, Nigeria and Sierra Leone make interesting case studies. These case studies are part of the Addressing and Mitigating Violence programme, which focuses on 'newer' forms of violence and organised crime as well as the changing dynamics of long-standing situations of violence 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

Unequal Voices: The Politics of Accountability for Equity in Health Systems

The Unequal Voices project - Vozes Desiguais in Portuguese - examines the politics of accountability in health systems in Brazil and Mozambique, exploring how accountability can be used to deliver better health services for citizens everywhere. 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

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How Do State–Business Relations Shape Sustainable Development?

IDS Policy Briefing 141 (2017)

The achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals will depend on the ways in which states and businesses engage with one another. While state–business interactions can take many forms, they inherently involve processes of negotiation through which actors in both camps pursue their own interests. More details

IDS publications on international development research

Gendered (in)security in South Sudan: masculinities and hybrid governance in Imatong state

Peacebuilding (2017)

Since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005 ended the civil war between north and south Sudan, many citizens of what is now South Sudan have increasingly felt left behind by their government. More details

This is the front cover of MAVC Research Report Shifting the Spotlight: Understanding Crowdsourcing Intermediaries in Transparency and Accountability Initiatives

Shifting the Spotlight: Understanding Crowdsourcing Intermediaries in Transparency and Accountability Initiatives

This report highlights the ideas and practices that underlie the work of crowdsourcing intermediaries: actors who collect and analyse citizen feedback using digital platforms, and use it to support positive change. Most studies of crowdsourcing initiatives in the transparency and accountability field are primarily concerned with representation (whose voice is being heard?) and impact (what kind of change is being supported?). More details

This is the front cover from MAVC Practice Paper Building an Ecosystem Around Data: Using Interactive Radio for Accountability to Farmers in Tanzania

Building an Ecosystem Around Data: Using Interactive Radio for Accountability to Farmers in Tanzania

This practice paper discusses research by Farm Radio International to assess the effectiveness of one of its projects, the Listening Post, and to examine its potential as a tool for the adaptive management of agricultural programmes. The Listening Post combines specialised interactive radio broadcasts with in interactive voice response tool created for gathering and analysing feedback and questions from audience members. More details


What are the Challenges and Opportunities for Multi-level Advocacy for Nutrition?

IDS Policy Briefing 129 (2017)

Over the last decade, policy advocacy has made critical contributions towards the development of nutrition policies, laws and strategies in many countries with high burdens of malnutrition. More details


Where is the Money? Donor Funding for Conflict and Violence Prevention in Eastern Africa

IDS Evidence Report 217 (2017)

In 2014, Kenya and Uganda were two of the top three recipients of official development assistance in Africa. The funding focused on education, health care, infrastructure, entrepreneurship development, HIV/AIDS treatment, conflict prevention and relief from natural crises such as droughts, famines or earthquakes. More details

This is the front cover of MAVC Practice Paper Participatory Budgeting in Indonesia: Past, Present and Future

Participatory Budgeting in Indonesia: Past, Present and Future

Yayasan Kota Kita (Our City Foundation) is an Indonesian civil society organisation of governance practitioners who focus on urban planning and citizen participation in the design and development of cities. Following several years of experience with participatory budgeting in Solo city, in 2016 they carried out research to examine participatory budgeting processes in six Indonesian cities. More details


State–Business Relations Beyond Growth: Bringing in Development

IDS Evidence Report 215 (2016)

The signatories of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have called on a wide range of businesses ‘to apply their creativity and innovation’ to address sustainable development challenges. Yet the role of business in contributing to development depends profoundly on its interaction with the state. This paper asks how states and businesses interact in different contexts to shape development outcomes. More details

This is the front cover of MAVC Practice Paper Making coordination a catalyst for the Open Government Partnership in South Africa

Making Coordination a Catalyst for the Open Government Partnership in South Africa

Open Democracy Advice Centre, a South African civil society organisation working on transparency and accountability, has been heavily involved in the Open Government Partnership (OGP) since its inception. Through this work, it saw that poor interdepartmental coordination was hindering the South African government’s ability to implement its ambitious commitments to revitalise the public service, promote transparency, and use technology to strengthen governance. More details

This is the front cover to IDS Bulletin 475, 'Power, Poverty and Inequality'.

Power, Poverty and Inequality

IDS Bulletin 47.5 (2016)

Ten years on from the landmark 2006 edition of the IDS Bulletin that brought us the ‘powercube’ – a practical approach to power analysis that offered a way of confronting its complexity – we return to the question of how to analyse and act on power in development. More details


Multi-level Advocacy for Nutrition

IDS Evidence Report 211 (2016)

Over the past decade, nutrition has received strong global attention as a development problem. Concerted efforts by international donors, philanthropical foundations, national and international non-government organisations and civil society have pushed nutrition further up global and national policy agendas. More details

IDS publications on international development research

Who Drives Climate-relevant Policies in the Rising Powers

New Political Economy 22.5 (2016)

The future of human life on our planet is influenced increasingly by what goes on in the rising powers. This paper provides a political economy analysis of the climate-relevant policies of China, India, Brazil and South Africa. More details

IDS publications on international development research

Intersectionality: A Key for Men to Break Out of the Patriarchal Prison?

Reflecting on male gender activists’ lessons from India, this article explores how intersectionality can help men (and women) better understand the structure of patriarchy, by connecting it to other forms of oppression, based on class, caste and age. More details

This is the front cover of MAVC Practice Paper Lessons from Yowzit’s practitioner research and learning process

Lessons from Yowzit’s Practitioner Research and Learning Process

Making All Voices Count’s Research, Evidence and Learning component provides grants and mentoring support for real-time research, applied by tech for transparency and accountability practitioners, for project learning and improved practice. Practice papers document these grantees’ learning processes. More details


Gender, Sexuality and the Sustainable Development Goals: A Meta-Analysis of Mechanisms of Exclusion and Avenues for Inclusive Development

IDS Evidence Report 206 (2016)

Through its work, the Institute of Development Studies Sexuality, Poverty and Law programme provides new evidence-based knowledge and policy options support efforts to strengthen the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. More details


The Violent Politics of Informal Work, and How Young People Navigate Them: A Conceptual Framework

IDS Evidence Report 198 (2016)

This report explores the linkages between young people’s economic engagement and their social and political engagement in contexts of violence in Africa. More details


Reducing Violence in a Time of Global Uncertainty

IDS Policy Briefing 122 (2016)

The new Sustainable Development Goal to reduce armed violence is a welcome commitment but the prescriptive nature of its approach is problematic – there is ‘no one size fits all’. Rather, focus needs to be on how violence operates in particular settings. More details

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Internal Displacement, the Camp and the Construction of Citizenship: Perspectives from Northern Uganda

Journal of Refugee Studies 2016 (2016)

Having no opportunities for meaningful citizen engagement further erodes a sense of citizenship. More details

This is the cover to IDS Bulletin 47.3, 'Ruptures and Ripple Effects in the
Middle East and Beyond'.

Ruptures and Ripple Effects in the Middle East and Beyond

IDS Bulletin 47.3 (2016)

Perhaps more than any other region or any other period of post-Cold War history, the Middle East since the Arab Spring constitutes a significant challenge to established ideas about development and its relationship with conflict. More details


The BRICS in International Development: The New Landscape

IDS Evidence Report 189 (2016)

This Evidence Report provides a summary account of the role of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in shaping the current global development landscape. More details