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Department of Geography


Consultants and contractors in global development

Funder: ESRC

Dates: October 2021 – September 2024

Project introduction

When most people think of foreign aid and development, the organisations that come to mind are multilaterals, development agencies, foundations and NGOs. Together these have traditional comprised and shaped the actors, rules, practices and cultures within which global development acquires knowledge authority, and is framed and conducted. But another set of actors are being ever more deeply woven into the DNA of development: private sector consultants and contractors.

By development consultants, we refer to management consultancy firms with business interests in global development. These firms have multi-sectoral expertise, in which aid-funded work constitutes a relatively small (but often highly regarded) part of their portfolios. By development contractors, we refer to firms for whom winning development contracts is their core business. Using Overseas Development Assistance (ODA), or foreign aid, both consultants and contractors deliver technical advisory support; project implementation; administration of multi-million-pound consortia; audit and evaluation services; and have active policy engagement and influencing roles. Together, they are increasingly prominent in shaping development knowledges, practices and cultures.

Exploring consultants and contractors in the global development landscape

Our project explores the growing role of private sector consultants and contractors within the UK’s foreign aid and development sector. We are interested in understanding their roles in producing, shaping, implementing and evaluating development knowledge and practice.

Core components of the research include financial analysis to map and analyse financial flows and contracts; understanding policy contexts; understanding of personal and institutional profiles in the sector, including governance, management techniques and influencing roles. Also central to the research are detailed case studies of consultants and contractors in ODA projects in key thematic areas such as education, finance, conflict and governance, and the creation of knowledge exchange opportunities between different stakeholders.

Project aims

The DC&C project aims to:

  • Make an original empirical contribution to understanding the role of development consultants and contractors within the UK development architecture and beyond
  • Generate important new theory in response to the changing realities of aid and development in the UK and beyond
  • Create novel and impactful knowledge exchange opportunities between state, policy, contractors and consultants, civil society, and academic stakeholders
  • Shape policy change in the roles, functions and contributions of management consultants and development contractors by creating appropriate and accessible resources for policymakers and other stakeholders, with demonstrable impact.

Conversations for knowledge exchange

As part of the project, we plan to create knowledge exchange opportunities between ourselves and different stakeholders including consultants and contractors, civil society, and policymakers. The intention is to enhance deep understanding and dialogue that can inform implications for policy and theory and create resources for policymakers and other stakeholders to shape positive change in the contribution of consultants and contractors.

  • If you are interested in speaking with us as a participant in this project, please e-mail the project manager:

The project team

Meet our project team.

Further information

If you would like further information about any aspect of the project, please contact project manager Dr. Jo-Anna Russon

Participant Information Sheet


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