Why Political Economy Analysis is in Need of Dying –

pESTLE rises and

STEEL is the building material for proper understanding of Politics

What gives politics its oxygen?

Has politics, in virtually all settings, outweighed its capability to deliver meaningfully, positively, for the majority of people?

Are we fixated with political analysis as a proxy for the inability to address root issues?


In business schools over the last sixty years we have been taught, and learned to use PEST and then PESTLE as the acronym for the external analysis of our operating environment. Returning to business school after a career change to the development world, saying about political economic analysis, PEA, people gave looks as if to say: And so?

Development speak continues to move on, the political economy analysis has now seen the political marketplace appear alongside other new names without there being new substance.

The root question remains – And so?

Have any of the new acronyms and titles evolved and developed the basic strategic process?

Are we better able to look at breaking down short term political posturing where the real issues, drivers and agents of change are interwoven with the wider factors?

Attribution or contribution? Causation, consequence or coincidence?

Politicians will seldom tell you other factors when they can claim kudos and we all have plenty of examples of political speeches obfuscating and passing the buck.

A challenge: we are not being long term and deep enough in terms of looking at the manner factors interact. Despite the tools in undertaking planning, we regularly write what we want to see rather than what we need to consider.

The changes in the acronyms or name for processes emphasizing politics over the substance of livelihoods become self-perpetuating. A recent paper from the London School of Economics The Death of the literature review and the rise of the dynamic knowledge map – https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2019/05/14/the-death-of-the-literature-review-and-the-rise-of-the-dynamic-knowledge-map/ – is illuminating in terms of showing connectivity. It is posited, the majority of political analysis regularly references other political analysis. Gatekeepers, be they personalities, institutions or simply the medium of search (internet engines being the main functionary here), control information and the raw data is rarely challenged effectively with innovative thinking breaking the present paradigms.

We are stuck in a status quo; perpetuating a false equilibrium, not challenging the reasons why processes do, or do not, work. We need a Kuhn-esque shift in thinking to lead to the reaffirmation of proper processes.

Work continues to challenge the use of GDP, gross domestic product, as means to gauge country level issues. Go further and such matters as the GINI coefficient – https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/si.pov.gini – highlight why this challenge is poignant. Cultural analysis has stalled in many respects. The role of social anthropology remains apparent but not as strong as it can be. Social anthropologists have taken lines of inquiry looking at sex and age as well as economic status. Michelle Obama highlighted a book, when on Oprah Winfrey – When Work Disappears – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/120365.When_Work_Disappears – which brought forward how individuals act and react in economic stressing and distressing settings. Interestingly, the book does not talk about politics but does cover all other aspects of the ESTLE – the STEEL.

A World Bank study has woken to how identity is used as a tool to mobilize by individuals in power:- “nearly all armed conflicts in contemporary Somalia break out along clan lines, clan identities are malleable and can be shaped by leaders to pursue control of resources and power. Clan identities are not the basis for conflict; rather, their deliberate manipulation creates and exacerbates divisions. Clan groups can serve as destructive or constructive forces as well as traditional conflict moderators” Recent events in Afghanistan reflect this approach where Afghans have reinforced proven, long evolved, approaches to building partnerships, coherence and functional relationships well beyond the 20th century development industry oriented political economy analysis. This article – https://www.economist.com/asia/2019/05/18/why-afghanistans-government-is-losing-the-war-with-the-taliban – brings forward dynamics politicians in power have struggled to come to grips with and the Western oriented aid and development industry has singularly failed to challenge itself on. What is ‘the State’? is not a question heard often. Recently, when listening to a lecture on state-building in Somalia, the question was posed

– Why do we need government in this form?

There was no answer from the assembled academics other than the realisation we need more time to answer such a question?

More time?

Or a change in the linear thinking now ingrained with PEA approaches?

Take a look at the classic, tried and tested, pESTLE:-

politics comes first and, regularly in a group session some one goes off, arguments become heated as dialogue turns to discussions on the merits and demerits of political activities in this or that situation. Opinion is never short when political views are required; not always asked for but always ready to be given. As a matter of unstructured observation when undertaking pESTLE approaches and reading PEAs, there is a regurgitation of superficial social anthropology and streams of political points usually driven by internet searches and, when it is possible, the quoting of interviews with political actors. If you ask a builder to improve your house, you get a building answer. Ask a politician to improve a situation and the answer is infused with political posturing of his, usually a ‘he’, agenda.

The inevitable happens and political analysis dominates; missing the longer-term issues as the politics and the opinions of politicos dominate. Take a look at the fundamentals of anthropologists working on the Precariat – https://www.anthroencyclopedia.com/entry/precarity and some work extracting the terms to how we can challenge our thinking – https://medium.com/@crookpaulj/new-social-orders-nothing-happening-inequity-persistence-and-becoming-more-ingrained-15f8e0e3bd27 – and we witness some of our external environment tools becoming procedural or, probably worse, simply reinforcing stagnant thinking.

How are we to address the increasing fragility of states, societies, and communities as an increasing number of factors impact on any given situation?

It is contended: politics has become self-serving and political analysis is missing the read drivers of development or reasons why stagnation is apparent. Add in temporal considerations to the limitations of geographic engagement and we have a limited toolkit to address the diagnosis and work on the engine of change. Political marketplace and a poor PEA are like trying to fix an engine using only an adjustable spanner. Can have a decent mechanic but the need for a broader set of diagnosis approaches and a complete toolkit is imperative in today’s complex engineering. Society is every bit as complex as any machine.

Australians held further elections and, in true stereotyping, are asking very practical questions as the cost of each politician has continued to increase, the accountability decreased and the effectiveness become questionable – https://www.theaustralian.com.au/weekend-australian-magazine/sometimes-it-feels-like-were-voting-blind/news-story/e1e29e435ffb62acae2fdb993ffae8bc. This is Australia, recently we saw massive questions asked of ruling elites in South Africa and the travesties of votes in a number of countries being questioned by powers who are more than willing to usurp voting processes to have their political influence in different settings. India has seen the largest voting state conduct an election. Look closer and we see Mr Modi played some dangerous games on patriotism meeting xenophobia and maybe even fear and racism to stay in power. His analysis of STEEL decent to then play the P–olitics?

Economics; usually this means someone in the corner doing an internet search for the country concerned, regularly the country, rarely more refined, and a stream of GDP, GNP, if fortunate a GINI coefficient. Aside from being slightly facetious, the economics tends to a regurgitation of facts without a discussion to critique these facts and sort out information from the data streams.

The UK provides examples of how politicians, having gained the upper hand in the media elements, seek to down play the role of economics. In the 3 years of the UK’s attempts to the leave the European Union; who’s name alone gives a potted history of political overpowering economics and becoming increasingly out of touch with economic imperatives to address social developments – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Union. Notable personalities heavily involved with politics have been heard to disparage bodies, both business and collectives for worker organisation, established to bring forward the practical elements of economics when it comes to the wellbeing of livelihoods of people.

Look at fragile states and regularly it will be the limiting or negative factors of the economy dominating the economics analysis – Think Afghanistan? Think heroin. Think Libya, people trafficking.

Social; depending on where we are undertaking the pESTLE, this can lead right on back to politics; much to the enjoyment of the people talking personalities and reinforcing the cult of the personality we have reinforced in recent years. The examples of Somalia, Afghanistan and the fragility of state functioning in the Middle East, Levant and Sahel come easily when politics has dominated all and, although there are signs of new light, as per the World Bank report quote. Overall, the social has tended to become synonymous with media and endless streams of opinion. Again, This has been reinforced by recent elements written about the British being ‘seduced by “characters”’ https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/may/11/farage-rees-mogg-claire-fox-britain-is-seduced-by-politicians-who-are-characters?CMP=fb_cif&fbclid=IwAR2wBeMiuitvnxGQAg0HXdxlj2ia7GpTFsNBofiDORsh0TJ18dfMLjO5PyM

And how we have not focused in on ‘followers’ https://www.economist.com/britain/2019/05/04/britains-followership-problem (Drucker, a great managerial guru will respect going back to the originals noted in this piece – https://medium.com/@crookpaulj/virtually-all-of-us-will-lead-d3fefce2f940 )

Back to the fragile states and we are only now gaining questioning on what social and cultural elements are there to cause people to place their lives on the line for (political) causes. Regularly, lack of education, lack of employment, lack of societal norms and controls, enter into dialogue; but are these natural lines of dialogue in a political economy analysis? Are we following the real external analysis process to challenge our thinking as we, regularly do not challenge the interventions being thought about consciously or shaping subconsciously?

Back to the UK, it is difficult to define ‘British’ and, given findings from psephology such blanket statements as the British are seduced requires numerous qualifications. The complexity of belonging is apparent in virtually all situations where development workers are seeking to define matters in political economic analysis terms fitting within a page limit and, more appositely, within an attention span limit.

We have looked to have tools to fit to people’s wants rather than the demands of the situations’ needs?

We see social commentary massing us together and yet the marketing of those in power dissecting to the point of being able to deliver individual messages on the triggers sparking your ignition.

In other settings, where the state is fragile (perhaps UK state apparatus is itself fragile as never before), consistently see the lumping together of people into ethnic groupings as analysts describe the power base of a particular politician; reference the World Bank quote realising the analysis of clan misses power issues and perpetuates the false setting of lineages as the driver rather than a tool to be used by politicos.

Interestingly, this has come to be challenged with the rise of extremism where the religious undertones are highlighted with the ethnic connections downplayed or being seen as a means to mobilize for this cause. But, again, regularly, political economy tend to have the linear connections are than the thinking promulgated by the dynamic knowledge management maps.

In such social analysis, the link back to the political, the development and perpetuation of the personality, is apparent.

Technical; no threats here, the average pESTLE analysis will already be running shy of readers but a renewed interest in ML (machine learning) and AI (artificial intelligence) has revived this area with the current debates on the future of work, the second industrial revolution, the internet and the dignity of employment.

What does a person do when jobs are automated and paper shuffling no longer enough? Juggle political economy analysis and invent the wheel again?

With the International Labour Organization celebrating its centenary, the organisation has sought to look at the future of work – https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/future-of-work/lang–en/index.htm. Utilising ICT and showing us the complexity apparent because of the ICT, the World Economic Forum seems to do it better – https://intelligence.weforum.org/topics/a1Gb0000001hXcwEAE?tab=publications – raising issue of comfort and complacency requiring some further analysis of organisational culture and social attributes

Technology tends to show the limitations of the pESTLE and the strategic process. In such complexity, the thinking is to move to a scenario based management approach; challenges the majority of organisations have continued to struggle with when stuck with political economy thinking serving constituents in the present power base. The dynamism of the WEF and LSE work comes to the fore and proper (be aware of more management gurus and charlatans) scenario management approaches need to be looked in to.

Legal brings forward the role of state and international law. With good questioning, this can highlight the shortfalls in political analysis alone as we all bring forward examples of governments finding ways around, or simply ignoring international stipulations. Sadly, the old adage of ‘one law for rich, one for poor’ has evolved only in terms to possibly become ‘one law for the elite, one for the rest’. Certainly numerous analyses of legal matters in differing settings bring forward questions of respect for the law.

Environment comes at the end of the classic pESTLE and regularly was a matter of quickly jotting down a few considerations as people look at their mobile phones and shuffle distractedly as they want to be somewhere else.

Clearly this has changed, as the Australian electoral campaign highlighted, and environmental considerations are now an issue politicians are waking to. Even if, as we see in cases such as fracking in the UK, politicians go out of their way to downplay environmental considerations and spend a great deal of effort in hiding their affiliations when seeking to effect legal matters in favour of further environmental exploitation. With Somalia and its massive oil, gas and now key metals, potential, we are seeing political offices being vied for and what constitution there is being interpreted so others in the myriad of political offices created seek a share of spoils coming. Use a dynamic map to draw this out and the weaknesses of decades in political economy analysis and response to the analysis is apparent.

Environmental issues regularly highlight the absence of people with different technical skills in a room. Memory brings forward a time when talking weather and climate. Points were made as to the differences between weather and climate and, when talking of climate cycles, a compliment was paid as to expertise in climatology. This compliment was put aside with the statement – Knowing more than others in the room does not make one an expert. Rather it only reinforces the ignorance of us all.

To wrap it and point the direction:-

Politics should not be confused with power. Increasingly political economy analysis has become administrative or tended to focus at the issues people feel comfortable talking about. The definition by OECD-DAC – Political economy analysis is concerned with the interaction of political and economic processes in a society: the distribution of power and wealth between different groups and individuals, and the processes that create, sustain and transform these relationships over time– has been eroded over time as we have become comfortable and then complacent looking at the factors we can, and can not, influence directly.

The underlying issues are those of realism and vision. This is to say, a vision should be set out and then the necessary external and internal analysis should be undertaken. Too many fine ideas, ideals, are lost when practicality comes to visit with a strength few PEAs ever allude to.

Interestingly, business school tools predate a number of standard development approaches. For example, Chambers’ pieces on participatory appraisal approaches are predated by Knight’s Triangle setting out the hierarchy and communication inside an organization. Further work has shown how the two models fit together to show how participation is regularly not as inclusive as we would like it to be.

The classic logical framework comes from military work – Have a read of Freedman’s The Future of War: A History.

If you are fortunate to find a EU 1993 manual Project Cycle Management (Integrated Approach and Logical Framework) hold on to it – 67 pages of gold dust when compared to the verbose and ‘aid speak’ dominated latest iterations; at least twice the length and half as good. And not asking the critical questions of how to challenge ourselves on the superficial completions of any external operating environmental analysis.

With the rise of PEAs and political marketplaces, the development tool has lost the essence of the origins established for proper pESTLE analysis to discern the external work settings.

Noting the heightened need to do a proper internal analysis of just how we are set up to do anything, the driver from this is:-

Essentially, we require to do STEEL analysis to determine the Political engagement determined by all the factors impacting us directly and politics is a consequence of STEEL manufacturing (tongue in cheek rework of the acronmym)

Conducting a proper external analysis alongside a proper internal analysis, the strategic process does not need reinventing; it needs doing well.


To follow:- UK and extreme poverty – an example of political process challenged by different perspectives


Courtesy of Bernard Salt posted to LinkedIn

Next Saturday 16 million Australians will elect 191 candidates (inc senators) on a 3-year contract to manage the nation. We pay $207k pa plus loadings, travel and a generous super. There is no shortage of candidates. What we need is a Politician Form Guide (PFG) that shows individually and collectively each side’s abilities: age, gender, academic qualifications, pre-parliamentary work experience. I like to see that a candidate has made some sort of community contribution and, ideally, has had some kind of experience working in a business that isn’t tax-exempt. In the private sector candidates would also undergo psychometric testing to test for aptitude and which would be kept confidential. But an election campaign is also a kind of personality test: we’re looking for weaknesses, strengths, behaviours, reasons to pick one candidate over another. Maybe at the next election in 2022 we should develop a PFG to help rate candidates in a rational manner rather than rely on promise upon promise and media preening. [The Weekend Australian Magazine p 34 $3.80] https://lnkd.in/f-MwTHV hashtag#auspol hashtag#politics hashtag#vote hashtag#election