The Unintended Effects of International Cooperation

An innovative research project of Radboud Social Cultural Research (2017-2024) 


The OECD stipulates in its evaluation guidelines that evaluation of development programs ought to include a focus on unintended effects. However, research suggests that this is not systematically taking place; a meta-evaluation of USAID evaluations showed that only 15% pay attention to this. A better understanding of positive unintended effects can contribute to making better use of positive multiplier effects. In a similar vein, deeper insights in negative unintended effects can lead to a better anticipation of them and to the development of accompanying preventative and mitigating measures. By means of this research we aim to put the study of 'unintended effects' of international cooperation on the agenda of policy makers, evaluators and scientists and advance it.

The project consists for now of the following elements:

  1. An academic-policy cross-over conference
  2. A special issues of the journal Evaluation and Program Planning
  3. A working paper series
  4. Topical research

This research project is in its execution phase, and we hope to be able to work with you, and offer you, more research and activities moving forward. Please share with us any ideas you might have on this topic through

1. An academic-policy cross-over conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

This conference took place in January 2017 and was jointly organized by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Radboud University. Over 25 presenters from various evaluation departments, research institutes, universities from developing countries and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs presented their research and engaged in a debate with policy makers on how to avoid unintended negative effects and make more use of unintended positive effects. The Preliminary Take-aways of the Unintended Effects of International Cooperation can be found here. file (pdf, 330 kB)

2. A special issue of the journal Evaluation and Program Planning

The special issue of the journal Evaluation and Program Planning is now available online. All articles are available online, such as an article by Geske Dijkstra, in which she argues that actually the unintended effects of aid are sometimes exaggerated: she shows that aid didn't have the pernicious effects of the quality of governance, as many have claimed. Other important article, by for instance Jonathan Morell, Melle Leenstra and Niels Keijzer are available too. An important read could be the one of Sumera Jabeen, where she proposes a new method to map unintended effects. Also the contribution by Adrienne Lemon and Melanie Pinet is relevant as they show how within their organization the attention for unintended effects in evaluations was doubled in just a couple of years.

3. A working paper series

We have launched a working paper series, based on the submissions to the conference and additional research. Please find the peer-reviewed working papers below. The topics are quite diverse and range from the side effects of migration management and climate change mitigation programs, to research into the difficulties of researching unintended effects (for instance tax avoidance). Feel free to submit your suggestion for a working paper to

  • Boersma, Meindert, Louise Kroon, Dion McDougal, Gijs Verhoeff & Yue Wang. How Does the European Union Trust Fund for Africa Manage Potential Unintended Effects of Its Programmes? file (pdf, 392 kB)
  • Dierikx, Marc. Like a Fish Out of Water: Experimenting Fishery in Lake Victoria, 1964-1974. file (pdf, 498 kB)
  • Dijkstra, Geske. Aid and Good Governance: Aggregate Unintended Effects of Aid. file (pdf, 558 kB)
  • Espinosa, Alejandra. Exploring the Unintended Effects of ICC Intervention on the Domestic Politics of the DRC, Sudan, and Kenya. file (pdf, 692 kB)
  • Gunn, Anna, Dirk-Jan Koch & Francis Weyzig. A Methodology to Appraise the Quality of Case Studies in Corporate Tax Avoidance. file (pdf, 740 kB)
  • Hilhorst, Dorothea & Nynke Douma. Beyond the Hype? Legal Responses to Sexual Violence in DRC in 2011 and 2014. file (pdf, 267 kB)
  • Hoebink, Paul. Unintended Effects of Development Cooperation: Some Historical Notes. file (pdf, 536 kB)
  • Kamanzi, Adalbertus. Are Unintended Effects of International Development Cooperation sustainable? Evidence from a Dutch District Rural Development Program in Tanzania. file (pdf, 676 kB)
  • Keijzer, Niels  & Erik Lundsgaarde. When Unintended Effects Become Intended: Implications of ‘Mutual Benefit’ Discourses for Development Studies and Evaluation Practice. file (pdf, 553 kB)
  • Koch, Dirk-Jan. Do Transactions to Tax Havens and Corruption Attract Officially Supported Export Credit? Evidence from Three European Export Credit Agencies. file (pdf, 424 kB)
  • Koch, Dirk-Jan & Lau Schulpen. A Literature Review. file (pdf, 728 kB)
  • Koch, Dirk-Jan & Lau Schulpen. Unintended Poverty Effects of Aid on National Staff of Aid Agencies. file (pdf, 605 kB)
  • Koch, Dirk-Jan & Marloes Verholt. Limits to Learning: The Struggle to Adapt to Unintended Effects of International Payment for Environmental Services Programmes. file (pdf, 893 kB)
  • Leenstra, Melle. Serendipity and the Human Factor: The Unintended, Unplannable and Unforeseeable Consequences of Development Cooperation. file (pdf, 403 kB)
  • Lemon, Adrienne & Mélanie Pinet. Measuring Unintended Effects in Peacebuilding: Innovative Approaches Shaped by Complex Contexts. file (pdf, 469 kB)
  • Morell, Jonathan A. From Firefighting to Systematic Action: Toward A Research Agenda for Better Evaluation of Unintended Consequences. file (pdf, 831 kB)
  • Santpoort, R., R. Bosch, G. Betsema & E. Zoomers. The Developmental Impact of Private Sector Investments in East-Africa: A Bottom Up Assessment of Intended and Unintended Effects file (pdf, 310 kB)

4. Topical research

Every year new aspects of international cooperation are researched within the frame of this research. In 2020 the unintended effects that were the focus of the research by Radboud University were unintended gender effects and unintended effects of export credit agencies. If you have topics on which you would like to collaborate with us, please feel free to reach out. A blog series (in Dutch) on this topic can be found in the journal Vice Versa (in Dutch).

In 2021 we systematically analyzed unintended effects of Dutch development cooperation. Through text-mining (manually verified) we analyzed all evaluation documents of the Operations & Evaluations Department of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs between 2000 and 2020. We presented our draft findings to the Operations & Evaluations Department in July and the presentation can be found here (pdf, 1 MB).

One of the areas of research has been the export credit sector. The research focused on potential side effects of export credit agencies, both positive and negative. To this effect a database was composed that accompanied the working paper on export credit agencies (listed above by Koch, 2021). The dataset can be downloaded here (DTA-file).

5. Video-tutorials

We are currently developing video-tutorials of our major research findings. Click on this link for an overview of the video-tutorials.