Stockholm university

Research project Towards an organizational theory on “obsessive measurement disorder”:

A comparative study on how intermediary organizations translate performance measurement requirements on aid

Project description

The demands to demonstrate results and control the use of resources have increased in aid projects during the past decades. Measuring and demonstrating results of aid is of course important for a variety of purposes such as learning in organizations. However, research has shown that too much focus on performance measurement can in some cases erode development policy implementation. One unintended consequence has been described by Natsios (2010) who launched the concept “obsessive measurement disorder”. The concept indicates that when organisations become preoccupied with measurements as such they could loose focus from other aspects that matter for effective aid delivery.

The overarching purpose of this project is to contribute towards an organizational theory on why performance measurement systems on some occasions hinder and on others support aid initiatives. Specifically, a contribution will be made towards explaining the phenomenon of “obsessive measurement disorder” (Natsios, 2010) by identifying and discussing the organizational mechanisms that give rise to and may prevent this unfortunate phenomenon. This project builds on research about the conditions under which performance measurement requirements improve or erode development policy implementation.

Since aid is typically delivered in a larger system with several intermediaries who collaborate in an ”aid chain”.  A relevant under-researched feature of the intermediaries in an aid chain is their dual role as both donors and recipients of aid, both auditors and auditees. As recipients they interpret what they need to do in order to receive further financing. As donors they regulate what the next actor in line needs to do in order to obtain financing. The design involves a comparison between four aid chains (a) civil society organizations b) private sector, c) public sector and d) research cooperation) where specific emphasis will be on how intermediaries translate requirements on performance measurement on aid.

The project has been awarded three years financing from the Swedish Research Council with a start in 2018. The project has also received ”seed money” financing from Stockholm University for further elaboration of the project idea. 

Janet Vähämäki and Susanna Alexius are the main researchers within the project. The project will be supported by a research council consisting of Göran Sundström (Professor in Political Science at Stockholm University), Kristina Tamm Hallström (Associate Professor of Management at Stockholm School of Economics), Joakim Molander (Head of Evaluation Unit at Sida), Bino Catasús (Professor in Accounting, Stockholm Business School) and representatives from intermediaries in selected case aid chains.

Project members


Alexius, Susanna

Associate Professor, Business Administration

susanna alexius

Vähämäki, Janet

Ph.D, Management

Janet Vähämäki