Investigating innovation in projects : issues for international development cooperation

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School of Business | Doctoral thesis (article-based) | Defence date: 2009-09-17
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Kansainvälinen liiketoiminta
International Business
Degree programme
vii, 157, [50] s.
Acta Universitatis oeconomicae Helsingiensis. A, 352
Substantial resources are directed worldwide to conceive, plan and implement international development cooperation projects. These initiatives are concerned with improving the socio-economic standing of beneficiary groups, organisations and institutions in a target country. In many cases support is directed towards the development of local abilities to manage and further develop institutional settings, public services delivery and the capability to act in international trade and representation. Innovation, both technological and administrative, is often cited as a key enabler of development, based on the observation of the positive role that innovation has had in the socio-economic development of industrialized nations. While international development cooperation projects in many cases are seen to be relevant, efficient, effective and perhaps even sustainable, it is not clear whether the current approaches and methods contribute to and enable administrative innovation in the project contexts. The study of projects in this context is challenging due to an undeveloped theoretical base of projects and their management in this specific circumstance. The temporal nature of projects and the institutional set-up are also found to create discontinuity gaps between projects that inhibit learning, the transfer of knowledge and best practice across projects. Furthermore the conceptualization, planning and implementation of projects are hindered by an inherent asymmetry of capabilities and knowledge between the donors and the beneficiaries. This study examines and explores international development cooperation projects from the perspective of administrative innovation. The study asks if the current practice contributes to the development of administrative innovative in the project contexts? Secondly, how could this practice be improved upon? Through a contextual review of projects and their management, international development, and innovation research focused on administrative issues and knowledge, key issues have been identified and relevant theoretical approaches charted. The four essays of the study examine the present practice of development cooperation projects for innovative attributes, the impact of the environmental context, the applicability of current theoretical thinking of project management, knowledge management and the relationship between capabilities and constraints. Both quantitative and qualitative research methods are used, in addition to a fully conceptual approach used in one essay. A joint section has been prepared to create a synthesis of the findings and to develop a framework model that links the various elements at play. The study concludes that the present practice of international development cooperation projects does not fully contribute to administrative innovation in the project contexts. In order to enhance this contribution, project practices need to adopt participatory approaches in the overall conceptualization, planning and implementation of projects in order to guarantee local ownership. On another level, projects are seen to benefit from repetitive project cycles, moving from exploration to exploitation, while learning between projects would benefit from engaging further existing communities of practice. Finally, in order to enable continuous innovation, projects need to establish a balance between the enabling individual capabilities and inhibiting social constraints present in the project contexts. In terms of managerial implications, the developed framework model is seen to enable a more appropriate conceptualization, planning, execution and control of development cooperation projects. A contribution is made to the theory of projects and management, the role of communities of practice in knowledge transfer, and the application of the Capability Approach of Amartya Sen to the project context. The research is seen to be relevant to organisations that act as clients or fund development cooperation projects, and to high know-how international development consultants and service providers.
Supervising professor
Seristö, Hannu, professor
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