Brittany Montgomery

Department of Urban Studies and Planning

Delivering Urban Projects: Contracting, Voice, and Anti-corruption in Infrastructure

When Enrique Peñalosa won his second term as Mayor of Bogotá, Colombia in 2015, 15 years after leaving the same office, he aimed to repeat the model of development used in his first administration to deliver internationally renowned infrastructure. He would advance his goal of “urban democracy” through the delivery of infrastructure projects. Based on more than a year managing transportation infrastructure projects during Peñalosa’s second administration, I use an analytic ethnographic approach to explain why it is now so much harder to “get things done.”

In the interim between Peñalosa’s terms, the organizational environment of projects was reshaped by the evolution of popular development reforms adopted in the 1990’s and 2000’s. Reforms interacted in unanticipated ways, catalyzing changes to the everyday practices of public sector employees. Together, they create three forces that constrain infrastructure delivery: the increased use of contract workers within the public administration, the rise in public voice on projects, and the predation of Colombia’s administrative oversight agencies.

The new public sector contracting regime rests on individual contract workers and the division of labor between employees. I show how it fosters conflict within public agencies and affects projects through low organizational learning, reduced legitimacy, and management difficulties. The public administration responds in surprising ways to the growth of formal and alternative expressions of the voice of project stakeholders. By criminalizing administrative law and presuming the flawless delivery of infrastructure projects, the oversight agencies motivate perverse routines within the public administration. Fear leads to decisions that public leaders admit are suboptimal, an inability to resolve project stakeholder demands, and stymied organizational learning. The policies that provoke the forces impeding infrastructure project delivery in Bogotá remain recommended to countries in the Global South. Yet their unexpected effects on organizational practices and projects can yield undesirable results.

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