This panel brings together academics and practitioners in a participatory format to explore opportunities and challenges of implementing politically smart and adaptive development interventions. It draws out links to theory and a research agenda on how better to think and work politically.
International aid has been increasingly criticised over recent years for adopting delivery models that fail to take seriously the political realities of the context within which they operate. This in part derives from increasing awareness of the political drivers of development. It also stems from a growing interest in complexity science, which highlights how actors interact in a dynamic and adaptive way, resulting in processes of change that are non-linear and unexpected. A growing body of literature suggests solutions to address these challenges and urges practitioners to 'think and work politically' (TWP) or adopt approaches based on 'problem-driven iterative adaptation' (PDIA). However, much of this literature has been limited to light-touch empirical analysis of a few repeated examples of alleged success with little attention paid to some of the challenges faced and how these were overcome. This panel brings together academics and practitioners to discuss learning from case studies of successes and failures of attempts to TWP in practice. Following a short introduction to current debates, it seeks to enrich the current empirical literature through a discussion of the factors that led to individual successes or failures, and the opportunities and challenges that arise from this emerging approach. The panel will provide suggestions for a future research agenda to deepen our understanding of the factors that facilitate effective TWP. The panel is organised in a participatory format to enable audience members to engage authors in parallel, followed by a round-table to discuss linkages between and implications of the papers.