Contracting Development: Managerialism and Consultants in Intergovernmental Organizations

Leonard Seabrooke*, Ole Jacob Sending

*Corresponding author for this work

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Intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) are now managed with an eye to managerial trends associated with transnational professionals, a view that has ramifications for how IGOs govern their policies and processes. Drawing on interviews and focus groups with staff in IGOs, we trace how managerialism in IGOs is changing how staff perceive work practices. We find that IGOs increasingly rely on consultants to enact policy scripts and to evaluate program success. This signals a subtle yet significant shift from expertise and bureaucratic impartiality, grounded in particular types of knowledge, to skills and flexibility to meet client demands and advance best practice norms according to prevailing world cultural frames. This managerial trend in IGOs is partly driven by stakeholder dynamics but is primarily a normative change in who is seen as having the authority to make claims over professional best practices. Such managerialism is contracting the development policy space. This contraction is partly driven by consultants, who defer to their peers and to donors rather than IGO staff and concerned member states. This work also depletes institutional memory for IGO operations. We trace how IGO staff perceive managerial trends and changes in work practices.
Original languageEnglish
JournalReview of International Political Economy
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)802-827
Number of pages26
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019

Bibliographical note

Published online: 26. June 2019


  • Consultants
  • Intergovernmental organizations
  • Managerialism
  • Professions
  • Expertise
  • Development space
  • World Polity

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