Power and Relationships

Exploring power in aid relationships provides the possibility for serious critical examination of the organisational cultures and practices that shape people’s expectations of what international aid can and should do. It helps identify institutional mechanisms and procedures for ensuring that contracts between donors and recipients can be established and monitored on a more even footing. And it opens up possibilities for dialogue and learning that recognises that voices are unequal in the diverse understandings of the state of the world and of what needs to be done to make life better for hundreds of millions of its citizens.

Power in aid relationships can be explored in several complementary ways. One way is to look at how historical shifts in power between donors and recipients have led to making mutual accountability such a central topic in debates on aid effectiveness as expressed in the OECD/DAC Paris Declaration of 2005.

In 2001 a group of practitioners and academics met at the Institute of Development Studies to consider the interplay of power, procedures and relationships in international aid. By linking ‘power’ with ‘relationships’, the workshop organisers revealed the whirlpools and contradictory currents in the vogue for partnerships, and fundamental contradictions and tensions that officialdom was ignoring in its enthusiasm for promoting ‘country-led’ policies. Outputs from the workshop included a book and briefing papers which are listed at the end of this page.

As a direct result of the workshop, IDS developed a collaborative programme of work with the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida), Action Aid and the UK Department for International Development (DFID) to explore understandings of learning and innovative practices in relation to notions of participation and accountability. Linked to this, we produced a series of papers within IDS ‘Lessons for Change’ series.

Between 2003-2006 a programme of action research and communication on power, participation and change, funded by DFID, Sida and the SDC, included a cluster of work on power and relationships in international aid that has since been taken forward through a number of separate research projects and commissioned work. The IDS Participation, Power and Social Change Team also includes three doctorate students currently researching this theme

Key contacts

Project details

start date
12 February 2000
end date
19 March 2010


Recent work