Inside the black box of political will: 10 years of findings from the Developmental Leadership Program

Research output: Working paper/PreprintWorking paper


Developmental leadership is the strategic, collective and political process of building political will to make change happen. It relies on three ingredients. First, on motivated and strategic individuals with the incentives, values, interests and opportunity to push for change. Second, because leadership is fundamentally a collective process, motivated people must overcome barriers to cooperation and form coalitions with sufficient power, legitimacy and influence to build, support or transform institutions. Third, coalitions' power and effectiveness partly hinges on their ability to contest and de-legitimise one set of ideas and legitimise an alternative set. Through this process of contestation, leaders and coalitions challenge, subvert and reformulate institutions in ways that are perceived as locally legitimate and sustainable. The process is neither neat, nor linear. It is typically messy, protracted and beset by missteps, reversals and trade-offs. The report also argues that politics and leadership can happen anywhere. 'Politics' is not confined to the arena of government and formal politics – i.e., the institutions of parliament, elections and large bureaucracies. The report concludes that the process of developmental leadership can be carefully supported from outside if agencies think and work politically, facilitate effective coalitions, and navigate the politics of legitimacy.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationBirmingham
PublisherDevelopmental Leadership Program, University of Birmingham
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2018


  • Developmental leadership
  • Networks
  • Coalitions
  • Thinking and working politically
  • Power


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