Making foreign aid work: Managing tensions between top-down and bottom-up approaches

Third-cycle level | 5.0 credits | Course code: SFGS390
VT 2023
Study period: 2023-03-28 - 2023-05-26
LANGUAGE OF INSTRUCTION: The course is given in English
Application period: 2022-12-14 - 2023-02-22

Course description

There is an inherent tension between top-down and bottom-up approaches in the management and implementation of foreign aid. Donors generally want control over goals, funds, policies and results, which has generated a wide range of top-down approaches to foreign aid, as illustrated by strategies related to development planning, public management and various results-based management approaches. At the same time, proponents of bottom-up approaches emphasize that foreign aid will work better by giving field agents the authority and power to use their own discretion and judgement in the delivery of foreign aid. Proponents of bottom-up foreign aid also emphasize the need for context-sensitivity and recipient ownership or the role of local institutions for achieving effective and sustainable development.

This course deals with the tensions between top-down and bottom-up approaches to foreign aid and practical solutions to overcome the contradictions. While the main focus is placed on conventional Official Development Assistance (ODA), consideration is also given to multilateral foreign aid (e.g. UN, EU), new donors (e.g. China and India) as well as non-state development agencies. The whole policy cycle is taken into account, from agenda-setting and policy design to policy implementation and evaluation.

The course consists of two main parts. The first part identifies and discusses the most important top-down and bottom-up approaches that currently dominate the debate in both the academic and policy-making communities. The second part provides students with hands-on and concrete knowledge about why and under what circumstances top-down and bottom-up approaches to foreign aid are likely to be effective across different policy fields, contexts, types of donors and aid modalities.

Requirements and Selection

Entry requirements

In order to be eligible for the course the applicant must fulfil the general entry requirements for postgraduate studies. A good command of English is vital.

The course is open for PhD students in Peace and Development Research or other relevant fields of study, or equivalent.


PhD students at the School of Global Studies and the Research School on Sustainable Development and Poverty Reduction will be given priority. Other applicants will be assessed and admitted based on the relevance of their PhD project.

Educational partnership

The course is a collaboration with the Department of Political Science, Lund University, Department of Government, Uppsala University, and the Institute of Statistical Social and Economic Research (ISSER), University of Ghana.

Other information

The course consists of a limited number of online seminars and one three-day workshop held in Gothenburg. Participation is required on all seminars and in the workshop. 

Link to website

Course syllabus



School of Global Studies


Social Science

Type of course

Generic skills courses


bistånd, utveckling, policy, implementering, ägarskap, biståndseffektivitet, foreign aid, development, implementation, ownership, aid effectiveness, results-based management, new public management, development planning, donorship, sustainable development, poverty reduction

CONTACTFredrik Söderbaum
0708 66 49 00