IDS working papers;317

Changing ideals in a donor organisation : ‘participation’ in Sida

Published on 1 January 2009

Development buzzwords shelter diverse and often divergent strands of meaning
and practice, lending an air of credibility and currency to the policies of the
agencies that espouse them. Tracing the trajectory of one of these buzzwords,
‘participation’, in Swedish development cooperation, this paper seeks to unpack
some of those diverse meanings and lend form to some of those divergent
practices. It weaves together institutional ethnography with oral history and textual
analysis, fortified by insights from a unique action research initiative on
participation. This innovative process brought together desk officers from across
the institution in a participatory learning group that met for the best part of a year
to explore the challenge of institutionalising participation in Sida.
The paper tells the tale of efforts to promote and negotiate participation in a
changing external and institutional environment. It begins in a time when the term
had not yet gained currency but in which the practice of Swedish development
cooperation resonated with many of the ideals that were associated with popular
participation. It goes on to chart the rise of ‘popular participation’ (folkligt
deltagende) and other variants, community participation, beneficiary participation,
stakeholder participation and civil society participation, as Swedish development
cooperation came to be influenced by the discourses and practices of bilateral
and multilateral development institutions. Pursuing the trajectory of participation
into an era in which other buzzwords – harmonisation, ownership and accountability
– have taken precedence, it reflects on the paradoxes of efforts to
institutionalise ideals within development bureaucracies as they grapple with the
opportunities, challenges and contradictions of the Paris Agenda and the
reconfiguration of the business of aid.
Keywords: participation; history of development; organisational change; development cooperation; development policy.

Publication details

published by
Cornwall, Andrea


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