Navigating Open Polities for Change in Swedish Bilateral Development Cooperation Projects

Sammanfattning: International development cooperation is undergoing a transformation, driven by the urgent need for more effective, holistic approaches to address enduring global challenges. This thesis explores the paradigmatic shift towards complex adaptive systems (CAS) thinking in Swedish bilateral development cooperation project management, in response to these challenges. This shift mirrors a broader evolution of the field from traditional project management approaches to encompassing more adaptive, inclusive and integrated management approaches and partnership models. Focussing on Swedish central governmental authorities, key implementers of Swedish bilateral public sector development cooperation projects, the research investigates their navigation through the evolving landscape of global development agendas, like the Agenda 2030 for sustainable development, as they seek to balance traditional managerial approaches with emerging institutional logics. Employing an open-polity perspective, this thesis delves into the internal and external organisational political dynamics influencing the authorities’ everyday project managerial practices in the context of these global agendas. Through multi-method data collection over four years, the research uncovers the dynamic interplay of managerialist, developmental, and collaborative logics in the authorities’ interactions with their funder, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), and their organisational adaptation processes amidst complex challenges. It highlights how these logics are socialised and negotiated in their unique principal-agent relationships, providing a nuanced understanding of the application of CAS thinking in practice. Real-time observations of a multi-country project during the COVID-19 pandemic provide further insights into the growing importance of adaptability, co-agency, and multidimensional complexity management for enhancing the transformative potential and effectiveness of bilateral development projects. This thesis contributes with a nuanced theoretical perspective and new case material to public administration, development research, and project studies, underscoring the importance of collaborative rationality, multidimensional resilience, and cross-disciplinary learning in navigating the open polities for organisational change in contemporary development cooperation projects. It enriches the understanding of the socialisation and negotiation processes in Swedish bilateral development cooperation, laying a foundation for future CAS-informed research and practices in development cooperation.

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