Are Development Discrepancies Undermining Performance?

A multi-country interdisciplinary study of aid salary discrepancies and development workers’ performance.


This three-year research project is funded by the prestigious Joint DFID-ESRC Scheme for Research on International Poverty Reduction. The research commenced in March 2007 and is led and jointly co-ordinated by Professor Stuart Carr, Poverty Research Group, Massey University, New Zealand and Professor Mac MacLachlan, Centre for Global Health, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.

This project explores the effects of aid salary discrepancies in the health, education and business sectors of six countries: the landlocked economies of Malawi and Uganda; the transition economies of India and China; and the island economies of the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. Bringing together an international team of psychologists, sociologists, management experts, educationalists, and economists from 10 different countries this project focuses on the human dynamics of aid salary discrepancies and their significance for capacity building in low-income countries.


Reducing poverty in general, and meeting the Millennium Development Goals in particular (World Bank, 2004), depends significantly on boosting the effectiveness of Technical Cooperation (Manning, 2006). Much of the continuing debate on this type of aid focuses on its overhead costs, including expatriate pay (Action Aid, 2005). However, largely absent from the debate to-date are the perspectives of expatriate and local development workers themselves. Salaries between national and expatriate workers, across volunteers and experts, and also between local personnel working for different agencies are often quite discrepant. These discrepancies constitute a veritable elephant in the parlour of poverty reduction efforts. According to the Paris Declaration, best practice in aid work means pay should be “aligned” and “harmonised” across worker groups (World Bank, 2005). Although pay may not necessarily be a primary motive for development workers, discrepancies in pay nonetheless have the potential to influence perceptions of organisational justice, which can in turn affect work performance (Colquitt et al, 2001). Moreover, because injustice is a motivation for much aid itself, perceptions of unfairness in aid work may have an inherent salience and undermine its necessary constituents, especially cooperation and capacity building. It is therefore important to identify under what conditions salary discrepancies are counter-productive. In this project we seek to

  1. document the extent of salary discrepancies in aid work;
  2. explore their consequences for work performance, and
  3. determine the potential for salary alignment and harmonisation to boost cooperative work performance, build capacity and more effectively address the challenges of poverty reduction.

Our focus is thus on increasing the effectiveness of those working at the coalface of poverty reduction, by considering how discrepant reward systems affect their performance.

Participants & Stakeholders

Listed below are the in-country stakeholder institutions involved in this study (in alphabetical order according to country)

  • China (People’s Republic of): Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan.
  • India: Institute for Studies in Industrial Development, New Delhi.
  • Malawi: University of Malawi
  • Papua New Guinea: University of Papua New Guinea
  • Solomon Islands: University of the South Pacific
  • Uganda: Makerere University

Formal links have been established with institutions in each of the target countries. In each country we focus on a centre of technical cooperation activities, spanning education, community health, and business organisations.

The stakeholder approach of the project ensures that policymakers and other key players in-country are also involved in the project from its inception. This will maximise the reach of the project results, as well as ensuring the applicability of the research in all sectors.

In 2009, on completion of the study, workshops will be held in-country with key stakeholders to report on the policy and practical implications of the findings.


Our core method is a cross-sectional online organisational survey, at an individual level of analysis, using a balance of quantitative and qualitative measures. A participatory approach to designing the methodology is used, with a focus on the Delphi technique, which ensures involvement from all team members.

What will happen to the results of the study?

The individual results of this study will be kept confidential and in no way will any participants be identifiable. The data collected throughout the process of the study will be submitted to the ESRC website on completion of the research. This information will be available to policymakers and the general public through the ESRC website.

Who is paying for the study?

This three-year research project is funded by the Joint DFID-ESRC Scheme for Research on International Poverty Reduction.

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