Looking inside the Black Box: The Role of Host Country Offices in Negotiating International Volunteering for Development

Barzegar, Behafarid (2019). Looking inside the Black Box: The Role of Host Country Offices in Negotiating International Volunteering for Development. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.000106ec

Abstract

This research aims to investigate the significance of the Host Country Offices (HCOs) of International Volunteer Cooperation Organisations (IVCOs) in explaining the gap between the theory and practice of International Volunteering Service (IVS) in development. HCOs are operational arms of IVCOs that work in developing countries, but they are rarely studied in the literature and remain a ‘black box’. Focusing on five HCOs in Malawi, this study seeks to address the gaps in the literature by examining the different relationships between the HCOs and their multiple stakeholders: their head office, the key players involved in mobilising and implementing IVS in development projects (the government, the donors and the partner organisations), and the volunteers.

The research uses the idea of ‘boundary managers’ to describe HCOs and their role in managing multiple mandates and negotiate relationships with different stakeholders. The conceptual framework is based on different kinds of trust and power relations to explore how HCOs negotiate these relationships and to demonstrate how other factors such as asymmetries in knowledge and information help explain the gap between the theory and practice of IVS. A cross-case study methodology is used that involves observation, document review and interviews with staff in head offices, HCOs, partners, beneficiaries and volunteers. The study shows that a development-focused IVS strategy, and fair and democratic organisational policies and structures that encourage staff contributions to knowledge, make more efficient use of human, physical and logistical resources, and can create trust-based relationships between the HCOs and their stakeholders leading to better processes, and potentially, to better and more consistent outcomes.

The study makes empirical, theoretical, and policy contributions by identifying HCOs as influential actors in IVS, characterising their status as boundary managers, and making policy recommendations for HCOs to manage the relationships between different stakeholders more effectively.

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