in: Evaluation, first published 08.10.2023
We analyse qualitative data collected from employees at Germany’s two main international development organisations, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW) Development Bank, to study how upward accountability and organisational learning interact in the world’s second largest foreign aid system. Goffman’s ‘staging’ heuristic is applied to unpack social practices in these two organisations. We find that employees navigate two separate domains, a frontstage and a backstage. They consider the federal bureaucracy an audience expecting a coherent storyline despite the messy realities of foreign aid. In response, they engage in impression management on a frontstage while shielding their backstages from scrutiny to maximise autonomy. As a result, organisational learning at GIZ and KfW in Goffman’s terms focuses on collective efficacy at satisfying accountability expectations through staged performances. We relate these insights to the hierarchical structure of Germany’s foreign aid system, the role of organisational interests and prevailing professional norms.