Risk is inherent to development assistance where outcomes are uncertain and contexts unpredictable. This session encourages reflection on the new politics of risk and uncertainty in aid. Papers will focus on the political bargains struck to minimize risk and maximize rewards in development.
Risk is inherent in foreign aid-giving where outcomes are uncertain, contexts change in rapid, unpredictable ways, and the potential for negative externalities are real. A growing recognition of uncertainty, the uniqueness and fluid nature of context and the difficulty of ex-ante prediction lie behind various big ideas concerning the best ways to manage development assistance, including problem-driven approaches, political economy analysis, risk outsourcing to third-parties and policy entrepreneurship. Collectively, these approaches indicate greater acceptance of the complexity of development work, with higher tolerance of risk by donors and unpredictability in the organisation of development. In doing so, it is assumed donors can be more responsive, innovative, flexible and savvy and that these qualities are conducive to effective development. Paradoxically, as these management trends are mainstreamed, the prevalence of donor surveillance architectures that penalize high risk/high reward ventures grows. As domestic consistencies press for greater public accountability of expenditure and draw attention to high profile failures in development, risk management has become an attractive value proposition for donors. Risk science displaces trust in professional judgment in favour of defendable processes of control and reduced exposure. Compliance functions at headquarters centre on limiting risks through safeguard policies, fiduciary and procurement controls. Meanwhile the need to account for decisions and results lies behind an expanding sub-industry within donor countries. This panel encourages reflection on the new politics of risk and uncertainty in aid, with the hope of examining the political bargains struck to minimize risk and maximize rewards in development assistance.