Working Paper

Changing Ideals in a Donor Organisation: ‘Participation’ in Sida

Published on 20 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.


Honorary Associate

Publication details

published by
Cornwall, A
IDS Working Paper, issue 317
978 1 85864 572 7


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