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(Un)certainty for sale? A historic exposé on Sida’s use of external experts 1960s–2020s

The purpose of this paper is to contribute to the understanding of the role and influence of externally sourced experts, with a particular focus on the shifting views on and use of relations to external experts from the 1960s until present times. The authors offer an empirically rich, longitudinal account on the shifting views on the relations within the field of public development aid in Sweden, where they focus on the Swedish development aid agency Sida’s use of external experts.

Janet Vähämäki, Susanna Alexius / Published on 20 May 2024

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Vähämäki, J., & Alexius, S. (2024). (Un)certainty for Sale? A Historic Exposé on Sida’s Use of External Experts 1960s–2020s. Forum for Development Studies, 1–27.

In this paper the authors offer an empirically rich, longitudinal account of the role and influence of externally sourced experts by the Swedish development aid agency, Sida, from the 1960s until present times. They describe what type of expertise has been required from external experts and how the content and rituals of these contracted experts have contributed – or not – to perceptions of trust and certainty. In the paper the authors present three eras, all with their distinctive features on the normative rationale and forms for external expertise; 1. 1960s–ca 1995: the Quick-fix implementer era; 2. Ca 1995–ca 2005: the Collaborative turn era; and 3. Ca 2005–2020s: the Proper organization proxy era. They suggest that a mission drift has occurred in Swedish aid as concerns both the in-house expert role of aid bureaucrats and the role of procured experts. The paper concludes that all throughout, external experts have served an important function – that of making organizations in the donor role less uncertain of their decisions on which organizations should receive funding. Interestingly, however, the use of external experts has in all times given rise to additional uncertainty, which, in turn, has called for even more experts. The authors also find that external experts have repeatedly been criticized for ineffectiveness and consultocracy, meaning that consultants have been influential in the formulation and implementation of policies aimed at restructuring public services.

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Janet Vähämäki
Janet Vähämäki

Team Leader: Development Policy and Finance

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