Subnational development cooperation: A new research agenda

For more than 70 years, wealthy nations around the world have been providing Official Development Assistance (ODA)—also known as ‘foreign aid’—to address the persistent challenge of global poverty. In analyzing aid policy, scholars have assumed that donor countries are unitary actors. However, rather than being controlled by a central government, foreign aid nowadays is given by various layers of government, potentially for different reasons and with different policy priorities.

While taking this diversity of actors into account would yield a more accurate depiction of contemporary foreign aid practices, our knowledge about subnational development cooperation is extremely limited. How important is subnational aid compared to central government aid? Why do subnational policymakers formulate their own aid policies rather than delegating them to central governments? Which development priorities do subnational governments pursue and in which beneficiary countries? Do subnational actors collaborate primarily with other local governments in developing countries? Absent any systematic inquiry on these issues, our proposed project seeks to start addressing some of these knowledge gaps.

This project will pilot comparative research into subnational development cooperation programs, using the Scottish government as its central case but also looking further afield at other European regions. Through semi-structured elite interviews, the project will help understand why subnational governments become aid donors and which factors explain their aid allocation patterns. The project will also be the first to collect systematic information on subnational providers of foreign aid that will enable future large-N analysis.


Dr Bernhard Reinsberg (Principal Investigator, University of Glasgow)

Dr Sebastian Dellepiane (Co-Investigator, University of Strathclyde)

Maitland Murray (Research Assistant, University of Glasgow)

Project Dates 

November 2019 – October 2021


Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland (GBP 13,748)


Dissemination conference (29 March 2021)

Publications and Outputs


Dellepiane, S., & Reinsberg, B. (2023). Paradiplomacy as nation-building: The politics of Scotland’s international development policy (1999-2022). British Journal of Politics and International Relations (doi: 10.1177/13691481231165408).


Reinsberg, B., & Dellepiane, S. (2022). The domestic sources of sub-state foreign policymaking: Determinants of subnational development cooperation across European regionsJournal of European Public Policy (doi:10.1080/13501763.2022.2055111). 

Reinsberg, B., & Dellepiane, S. (2021). Development cooperation by European regions: Introducing the subnational donor governance datasetDevelopment Policy Review (doi:10.1111/dpr.12608). 

Subnational donor governance dataset --  dataset available on Harvard Dataverse


The Politics & International Relations subject in the School of Social and Political Sciences hosted a virtual conference on ‘Paradiplomacy: past, present, and future’ on 29 March 2021. The conference was part of the research project on ‘Subnational development cooperation: a new research agenda’, funded by the Carnegie Trust and led by Dr Bernhard Reinsberg with collaborator Dr Sebastian Dellepiane (University of Strathclyde).

The conference brought together scholars from a range of social science disciplines and policymakers from Bavaria, the Basque Community, Catalonia, Flanders, and Scotland, to engage in discussions about the foreign policymaking by regional governments. Also known as ‘paradiplomacy’, the phenomenon has increased in scope, scale, and depth in recent years. Many regional governments are now regularly involved in policy areas that have long been considered the domain of federal governments, such as global environmental governance, development cooperation, and diplomatic relations more generally.

The conference helped showcasing some recent work on paradiplomacy and a new dataset to systematically study the determinants of subnational development policy. Policymakers from subnational development cooperation agencies offered unique insights into the motivations, governance structures, and policy priorities of their foreign aid programs. All participants concurred that paradiplomacy, given its growing significance, is about to conquer a more prominent position in the International Relations discipline.