Working in complex political contexts, like in the six countries where the Western Balkans Democracy Initiative is active, can be tough.
A region that has experienced many challenges and intractable problems in the recent past, and which is now looking towards European integration, makes designing programmes that have a lasting impact on citizens lives less straightforward.
Slow to respond political systems, endemic corruption and weak institutional democracy are all fundamental problems facing Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia.
At the heart of the Western Balkans Democracy Initiative is the problem-driven iterative adaptation approach that encourages more thinking, analysis and adaptation of programmes to better understand the long-lasting problems in the region.
In 2018, WFD developed a set of guidelines for analysing these complex problems. The “problem definition test” outlined several steps to make sure we are exploring problems in depth and as defined by a comprehensive set of rules, dynamics and players. Testing included four steps:
- Is our identified problem understood in the same way by all the stakeholders involved?
- Is it perceived as a problem by parts of the population whose opinions are often obscured from view, such as rural populations?
- Are multiple solutions to the problem available?
- Is the problem defined as a ‘lack of’ or ‘absence of’ problem? If so, it is likely to lead to premature conclusions about the solution to the problem.
Across six countries, 47 problems were identified, and more than 160 verification activities took place to better understand the nature of these problems. WFD teams met, discussed and interviewed more than 400 stakeholders to inform the design of the programme.
Based on the information gathered, 11 political economy analyses were prepared to tackle these problems. These analyses show which actors are involved, their needs and motivations, the formal and non-formal rules that influence the problem. At the last stage we developed 10 complex packages each consisting of multiple approaches to the problem based on the potential for change identified in the PEA.
Using this data-driven approach gives WFD a unique opportunity to learn and adapt its programme of activities in the Western Balkans based on what works in this specific context. With more time to reflect and learn on what went well, we hope to help solve the problems facing democratic institutions in the Balkans.