Reform ideas, such as results measurement and management, tend to come and go in different ‘tides of reforms’. The purpose of this thesis is to increase our understanding of tides of reforms by identifying and discussing mechanisms that drive the rise, as well as the fall, of management reforms. This is done by studying four so-called ‘results initiatives’ launched at Sida, the Swedish International Development Agency in 1971, 1981, 1998 and 2012. The thesis tries to understand what happened both in Sida’s external environment as well as within the agency prior to the initiation, during implementation and when the four results initiatives fell out of favor.

The life of each of the four results initiatives can be understood as having taken place in five phases: 1) the pressure phase, 2) the launch, 3) implementation, 4) point of re-do or die, 5) phase of opening up for something new. During these five phases different internal and external mechanisms contributed to either further institutionalization or to de-institutionalization of the results measurement and management ideas and technologies.

It is argued that the need to gain legitimacy can be seen as the main mechanism that has driven the initiation of the results initiatives. During implementation, problems and difficulties arise. It is argued that whilst resistance towards the initiatives, as well as changed external demands, accelerates de-institutionalization, these mechanisms do not explain why the initiatives fall. In turn, the failure to find a standardized reporting category for “results”, the non-use of the results information produced and the fact that the initiatives no longer fulfill the function of providing legitimacy, are mechanisms that lead to the final death of the initiatives.

The study concludes that whilst different external pressures can be considered important in initiating reforms, it is mainly internal mechanisms, within the organization, that explain the reason why the initiatives fall. Earlier literature has argued that tides of reforms are driven by hope and optimism to be and to be seen as effective. The findings in this study show that also the solidarity rationale, i.e. the wish to do good for someone else, and the feeling of doing so, drives the reforms. It is moreover argued that the reforms are also driven by fear and other emotions. In general, the occurrence of tides of reforms can be understood by the tension between the two rationales in development aid: solidarity and effectiveness.

The study contributes with insights to what happens within an organization and over a longer time perspective when public agencies are faced with conflicting demands. It provides a broader understanding of reasons behind the quest to report on results and also what happens when results are not reportable. Since new and similar reforms will most probably arise in the future, findings from this study ought to be interesting not only in development aid but in all public policy sectors, for any policy maker or practitioner involved in the implementation of such reforms.

The thesis can be read in fulltext here.