2018 Organisation and Management of Aid Other

The Rise and Fall of ‘Results Initiatives’ in Swedish Development Aid

Janet Vähämäki

The search for results or effectiveness of aid has been of major concern for Sida and Swedish public aid since the “birth” of public development aid in the 1960s. One way in which Sida (Swedish International Development Agency) has tried to operationalize this political ambition has been by launching and implementing so-called “results initiatives”. However, all results initiatives have had lifespans of only about 3–10 years. It seems that they have served the purpose for a while, but that they have all fallen out of favor after some time in implementation. Why is this so?

The report was presented during the EBA-seminar The politics of the results agenda: What can we learn from development cooperation history in Sweden and the UK?

Main findings
Gained benefits, fear and other emotions and the tension between solidarity and effectiveness constitute three mechanisms that drive five stable, institutionalized elements: 

  • It is taken for granted that Sweden should provide public development aid, and it is taken for granted that public agencies should be able to demonstrate results.
  • The technology, i.e. the result matrix, used in the initiatives is designed with “extra everything” toppings. There is often a wish to show that everything possible had in fact been done.
  • Reform attempts faces difficulties every time when it comes to implementation, with non-compliance and resistance as responses.
  • The occurrence of a point when there is an urgency to do something in order for the initiatives not to wither away. The organization then choses to re-launch the initiatives, either by a re-motivation, a re-initiative or a sub- initiative. This is a back and forth process between resistance and compliance, between de- institutionalization and institutionalization.
  • The information gathered is typically considered non-useful for decision-making purposes, which subsequently leads to the fall of the reforms. A stable feature within the initiatives is the constant hope of finding better reporting categories, but also the failure to do so.
Janet Vähämäki is a researcher at Stockholm Center for Organizational Research (SCORE). In 2017 she defended herdoctoral thesis Matrixing Aid – The Rise and Fall of ‘Results Initiatives’ in Swedish Development Aid at Stockholm Business School, Stockholm University. This brief presents the main conclusions of her thesis.