Constrained Coordination: How Strategic Interests and Bureaucracy Shape Donor Coordination

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Scholars and practitioners recognize the importance of coordination in mitigating the costs of aid proliferation and improving the effectiveness of foreign aid. However, low levels of donor coordination persist. In this dissertation, I address this donor coordination puzzle. I offer a novel theory of coordination called Constrained Coordination, in which I posit that two key factors that play a crucial role in shaping coordination. First, I argue that donors strategic interests are a damper on coordination – the greater the strategic political, economic, and security interests of a donor government in a recipient country, the less coordination its aid agency will engage in. Second, I argue that aid agency autonomy is positively associated with coordination – the greater the level of autonomy – or freedom – that an aid agency has from its home government, the more that aid agency will coordinate. In order to test my Constrained Coordination theory, the dissertation uses mix-methods, and includes a quantitative analysis of hundreds of donor agencies coordination. I also leverage over one hundred extensive interviews with key stakeholders to present two qualitative case studies of donor coordination in Nigeria and Zambia. Finally, I use qualitative evidence to look at the coordination of South-South donors, a group of donors growing in importance. I find that a donor government’s strategic interests have a significant impact on whether its aid agency will coordinate within recipient countries. Similarly, when a recipient is strategic to a large number of countries, donors will not be well coordinated. Second, I find that aid agencies with greater levels of autonomy from their home governments coordinate more. And finally, I find that these effects amplify one another – a high autonomy donor working in a low priority country coordinates more than any other combination of strategic interests and autonomy.






Olayinka, Adebola I. (2019). Constrained Coordination: How Strategic Interests and Bureaucracy Shape Donor Coordination. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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