Abstract This article discusses the attempt undertaken by several development aid agencies since the turn of the century to integrate political economy assessments into their decision making on development assistance. The article discusses three such attempts: the Drivers of Change adopted by the UK’s Department for International Development, the Strategic Governance and Corruption Analysis (SGACA) developed by the Dutch Directorate General for International Cooperation and the new thinking on political economy analysis, policy reform and political risk advanced by the World Bank. On the basis of a political-economic interpretation of development agencies, two main factors are found to hinder the successful application of political economy assessment. In the first place, the agencies’ professional outlook leads them to see development in primarily technical terms. In the second place, the nature of incentives for development professionals leads them to resist the implementation of political economy analyses.