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

Conference contribution
Authors Christoph Haug
Published in 5th European Conference on African Studies, 27-29 June 2013 in Lisbon
Publication year 2013
Published at Department of Sociology and Work Science
Gothenburg Centre for Globalization and Development (GCGD)
Language en
Keywords development cooperation; Africa; donor-recipient relationships; communication; reporting; story-telling; Results Based Management
Subject categories Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology), Globalization Studies, Peace and development research


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.

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