Accepted Paper:

"We want to report about everything!" Reporting templates and the production of agency in international development cooperation  


Christoph Haug (University of Gothenburg)

Paper short abstract:

By examining the practice of exchanging funds for reports in development cooperation, this paper argues that the technologies of results based management serve to shield the comfort zone of the global north from the stories of suffering and their moral imperative.

Paper long abstract:

Donor agencies legitimize their existence by producing activity reports which show that they are making a difference. Evidence needs to be produced that links the donor to the results achieved by its partner organizations. Such evidence usually comes in the form of reports which the partners are obliged to deliver before they receive the next slice of funding.

The present paper examines this practice of exchanging funds for reports, asking how it affects the relationship between the development partners. The focus of the analysis is on the construction of agency in the interactions between donor and recipient. Given the donor's dependence on reported results, how can the donor claim agency? Given the dependence of local organizations on resources from the donor, how can they claim agency? And to what extent is it possible for both partners to claim agency for the results of their collaboration?

Based on a case study from HIV/AIDS work in South Africa, the analysis finds that the negotiation of agency takes place in two conflicting languages: the language of results and the language of grievances. The paper argues that a significant source of donor power lies in their ability to structure the communication between the partners by defining reporting templates that are result oriented and thereby frustrate attempts of grievances-related storytelling. Given the preposterous scope of human suffering in poor communities, the language and technologies of results based management serve to shield the comfort-zone of the global north from these heartbreaking realities and their moral imperative.

Panel P013
Governing AIDS through aid to civil society: power, responsibilization and resistance