How do donors think?
DIIS seminar discussed how ideas, research, bureaucracy, context influence donor thinking
These questions, and more, were discussed at a seminar hosted by DIIS but organized in collaboration with IDS-Helsinki, Finland and IDS-Sussex, UK on October 26-28. It drew participants from Denmark, Estonia, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, the UK and the US.
Participants did not, of course, arrive at a simple and unequivocal answer to the question about how donors think. Donors think in many different ways. However, for a number of reasons donors may think (and act) differently than other public organizations because:
- Donor organizations – and the individuals working within them - are accountable to their own domestic constituencies and not to the groups and organizations that receive the aid. Foreign policy concerns of donors, for example, may conflict with the aspirations and needs of recipients.
- Donor organizations – and their staff - collude, conflict or cooperate with other donors about how, and for which purposes, aid should be dispensed, and how much should be given. The intentions behind the Paris declaration have not solved the complex problems of how sovereign states, including recipients, best cooperate to achieve genuinely agreed goals.
- Power relations between donors and recipients are unequal, despite much talk about partnership. This is especially the case in donor dependent countries
- Donor bureaucracies are typically characterized by
- Attempting to achieve many, often highly ambitious, goals
- Operating in many different countries/contexts – yet pursuing similar goals across them
- Continuous turnover of staff, especially at the recipient country level
- Ambiguous headquarter-branch relations
- Multiple conflicting incentives
How these differences may make donor organizations think differently than other organizations depends on the specific context and donor. The draft papers presented at the seminar illustrate how this plays out in specific cases.
Some of these papers will be revised and published in a special issue of a journal. In addition, ‘postcards from Aidland’ - stories about how donors think drawn from some of the papers presented in Copenhagen and in previous seminars - will be condensed and published in a more practice-oriented journal or magazine.
The Copenhagen seminar was the third and final seminar in a series on Knowledge Practices in International Aid funded by Norface (New Opportunities for Research Funding Co-operation in Europe). This is a partnership between twelve research councils to increase co-operation in research and research policy in Europe.
Ole Therkildsen and Lindsay Whitfield