Shaping the Agenda of Norwegian Development Policy in the 21st Century

The project seeks to understand how the political agenda of aid donors is shaped. While there are thousands of problems and issues that could potentially reach the top of the decision-makers’ agenda, very few do. This research therefore asks: What are the mechanisms that allows some ideas to take hold and grow?

Reshaping development cooperation

With nearly $150 billion in official development assistance, in addition to hundreds of billions in remittances and other forms of aid from ‘emerging’ donors such as philanthropists, diasporas and middle-income countries, the politics of aid still play a key role in shaping international relations.

With the introduction of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, the international society has made significant steps in revising and broadening its understanding of ‘development’. While a more traditional understanding of development saw it as a secluded operation in which rich countries assist poor countries with issues such as humanitarian aid, vaccination, water, sanitation and hunger, a new consensus recognizes the mutual destiny all countries share in terms of social, economic and ecological sustainability. By dealing with grand interconnected challenges such as migration, conflict, terrorism and climate-change, development co-operation has broken into new frontiers and deepened the links between foreign aid, foreign policy, and domestic policies. At the same time, 2015 may have been “the zenith of global multilateralism”, as multilateral co-operation is increasingly coming under threat.

The increased awareness of the interconnectedness of contemporary global development challenges has blurred the distinctions between foreign aid, foreign policy, and domestic policies. This has important implications for our understanding of policy-making and the way the Nordic countries act at the global scene. As present-day aid policies rarely arise from a single source or context, we need to examine how both the domestic and the international policy arena function as enabling environments to policy-making.

About the project

The project seeks to advance the state of the art of agenda setting and policy-making by compounding data from Norway, Malawi, and multilateral institutions. It sets out to answer the question: what actors and processes form the political agenda within the rapidly changing field of aid and development?

An important motivation was the observation that few theories of policy-making – and few empirical studies – have addressed the specific political processes driving and shaping foreign aid policies. Foreign aid has simply not been a major focus within research on agenda setting. In the aid literature on the other hand, the impact (both intended and unintended) and the effectiveness of foreign aid has received most of the academic attention. In other words, debates concerning the output has long dwarfed the attempts to discuss the input or production of policy priorities. Although there have been several attempts to map out donor countries’ motivations for providing foreign aid, the most common approach is multi-country econometric regressions. These studies are inadequate in analysing processes of interaction between individuals and groups within a specific political context.

This project therefore offers an in-depth analysis of the emergence of three cases of successful agenda setting in one of the world’s most generous donor countries, namely Norway. The three cases are the following: the rise of the global education initiative, the making of an inter-ministerial action plan for sustainable food systems, and the increased emphasis and new strategy on fragile states and irregular migration.

The conceptual framework builds on the Multiple Streams Approach (MSA), the Advocacy Coalition Framework (ACF), and the Punctuated Equilibrium Theory (PET). While these theories, which have dominated the field of policy studies since their emergence in the 1970s and 1980s, differ in some respects, they also share important insights and assumptions. Exploring these have compelling theoretical synergies. The data material consists of more than 80 interviews, document analysis and participant observation from Norway, international organizations and Malawi. 


The project aim to generate new and insightful perspectives on both policy-making processes and present-day foreign aid. Its unique approach seek to garner insights regarding the micro processes of individual beliefs and decision-making, yet also shed light on advocacy and policy-interaction on group- and institutional level.   


The doctoral thesis will be published as a monograph. The monograph is structured to allow more coherence and detail, and each chapter will address different cases within the overall theme of the project. Hegertun, along with his supervisor, Professor Dan Banik, will produce shorter articles and op-eds partly based on insights from the project. In addition, insights from the project will feed into to the Oslo SDG Initiative’s courses and events.


2017 – 2021


Centre for Development and the Environment, University of Oslo

Published Aug. 21, 2020 11:28 AM - Last modified Jan. 6, 2021 8:54 AM