Appendix 2: Summary: Conditions and Factors to Consider

Susanna Alexius (Stockholm Centre for Organizational Research (Score), Sweden)
Janet Vähämäki (Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), Sweden)

Obsessive Measurement Disorder or Pragmatic Bureaucracy?

ISBN: 978-1-80117-377-3, eISBN: 978-1-80117-374-2

Publication date: 29 February 2024


Alexius, S. and Vähämäki, J. (2024), "Appendix 2: Summary: Conditions and Factors to Consider", Obsessive Measurement Disorder or Pragmatic Bureaucracy?, Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 201-203.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2024 Susanna Alexius and Janet Vähämäki. Published under exclusive licence by Emerald Publishing Limited

Below, we have summarized key responses to the research questions about when, how, and in particular why performance measurement requirements and other control demands can actually weaken performance rather than having the intended performance-enhancing effect on development policy and its implementation (see also Chapter 8).

When Does It Occur?

Conditions that can increase the risk of performance measurement requirements and other control systems having performance-weakening effects:

  • Organizations are externally criticized, and decisions are taken to respond forcefully to the criticism and the underlying uncertainty by way of attempted “trust-transference” from impersonal, legitimacy-enhancing measures such as additional results-based management technologies and measurements.

  • Decision-makers are too short-sighted, for example, due to the mismatch of temporalities between politicians' or other decision-makers’ own mandates (period in office) and the actual time required to make a difference in the field.

  • Organizations have large numbers of newly employed staff. New employees may be unaware of the fact that control and measurement systems can lead to counterproductive effects. They may also be excessively rule-abiding due to fear of losing control or losing a job position, or fear of not being considered professional. Less experienced bureaucrats may have unrealistic beliefs when it comes to solving development problems and in the management dreams of simplifying the complex and controlling the future.

  • Organizations have a high staff turnover. This condition can make it more difficult for staff to gain a long-term understanding and for senior staff to share pragmatic bureaucratic insights and practices with junior staff or newcomers. This state may also contribute to decisions being taken “blindly” in following with institutionalized role-scripts, where the role of donor is the most influential one in this regard.

  • Stress and a lack of slack time in the organization can further contribute to bureaucrats not having the time and energy to go the extra mile and take responsibility for how control and measurement affect the parties involved, particularly in the longer run, and how measures need to be adapted to the particular context.

  • A change in the professional competence profile of the staff. When large numbers of technically oriented generalists come to replace staff with more specialized, context-oriented knowledge, there is a risk for mission drift in the organization. Sometimes, more technically oriented generalists turn into “hyper bureaucrats,” over-excited about the details of technical and logical measurement schemes and unable or unwilling to see the bigger picture. The risk for performance-weakening effects is especially likely to increase when such hyper bureaucrats create larger networks and/or gain powerful positions in an organization or the wider system.

Why Does It Occur?

  • The search for legitimacy and an unreflective strive toward effectiveness at all costs take center stage and become counterproductive, particularly in the longer run.

  • Bureaucrats lack professional judgment, experiential knowledge, courage and/or opportunities to share, and learn/socialize into a more pragmatic bureaucratic culture.

  • Bureaucrats don't have time to see the reality and meet with partners since they are too busy with requirements and measurements, despite having the awareness that measurements can become counterproductive.

What Can Be Done About It?

  • Ensure that the organization has a growing cadre of staff with pragmatic bureaucratic awareness and competence. Honor, foster, and support this competence.

  • Honor the staff's brokerage skills, multivocality, and knowledge about different domains and contexts.

  • Enable opportunities to talk about the fears of losing control, losing a job, or not being considered professional, for example, by creating designated “worry periods” to discuss uncertainties in the field.

  • Create awareness on current control and measurement rituals by reflecting on how they affect partners and main beneficiaries. Prioritize communication and mutual understanding, i.e., ask and listen to your counterparts about how they experience different rules, regulations, and measurements. The plural actorhood and role-switching (between the roles of donor and recipient/partner) experienced by most aid organizations and staff can be a fruitful point of departure for such discussions.