Context: five questions for considering the political environment

PLEASE NOTE: This resource was originally part of a structured repository on this website. It is now part of a small collection of resources awaiting updating and/or expansion before being relocated to the i2Insights blog and repository.


  • To stimulate thinking about the political and institutional environment, especially:
    • How it affects the persistence of a particular problem
    • Where reform is most likely to come from
    • Implications for the use of research-based evidence.


This thinking tool has 5 questions.

1. Which branch of government holds the key to change?  
This involves understanding how relevant governments work, what checks and balances are in place and where blockages to change are likely to be. In many democracies, for example, checks and balances result from government being divided into three branches: the parliament, the civil (or public) service and the judiciary, which vary in their policy making roles.

2. Where and how does political debate occur?  
This involves understanding the extent to which political debate occurs in the open or behind closed doors and also how much it is influenced by strong vested interests. This affects which actions will most likely be effective in introducing research-based evidence.

3. What role do informal politics play?  
Informal politics is the term used to describe influence exerted by strong personalities or groups, or by patronage. In order to undertake effective action, is important to understand the relationship between informal politics and formal policy making procedures.

4. Is there really capacity to make change happen?  
This involves reviewing factors such as:

  • How strong is the hold on power for the governing political party?
  • Do those affected by the proposed change vote?
  • How effective is the civil service?

5. How do external forces influence change?  
This involves considering, where relevant, the influence of donors, international trading partners and other international dialogues and processes.

Reference: This is one of the tools described in Young, J., Shaxson, L., Jones, H., Hearn, S., Datta, A. and Cassidy, C. (2014). Rapid Outcome Mapping Approach: A Guide to Policy Engagement and Influence. Overseas Development Institute (ODI), London, UK. URL: (PDF 1MB) and can also be found on the report's interactive website URL:

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Posted: January 2018
Last modified: April 2020