Practicing Politics: technical project templates and political practice in a DFID country office

Brendan S. Whitty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
33 Downloads (Pure)


Development agencies including the UK Department for International Development (DFID) increasingly agree that if aid is to be effective, it should be politically smart and locally led. However, both the critical and the reformist literature have argued that development agencies persist with technical, template-driven programming: political analysis and practice have not been widely institutionalized. This study aims to identify why development representations are persistently technical in their form, and what blockages have existed for developing locally grounded and politically aware programmes. The article presents an ethnography of the process of developing the core elements of the governance portfolio in an (anonymized) DFID country office. Focusing on a key design workshop, the study is situated within a wider organizational ethnography. The persistently technical justifications for programmes are a result of the bureaucratic form itself, its accountability and approval processes. Political analyses represent countries in such a way that officials can prioritize selection from a repertoire of technical models. However, scepticism about the tractability of governance problems to such analyses and programming has led to an emerging understanding of politics that creates space within the bureaucratic form for politically aware practice. Politically aware programming should emphasize good operational practice over explicit analysis and should continue to emphasize technical models like the adaptive management models which create room for such practice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)O293-O309
JournalDevelopment Policy Review
Issue numberS2
Early online date10 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019


  • International development
  • Bilateral aid
  • Adaptive management
  • Political economy analysis
  • Bureaucracy
  • Ethnography
  • international development
  • political economy analysis
  • bilateral aid
  • bureaucracy
  • adaptive management
  • ethnography

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