Development Arena in Project Management

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Today, project managers face a lot of different problems, when entering a project. These problems are often characterized by their complexity and the challenges of addressing the solution, since the solution is often defined by multiple, sometimes competing, perspectives and stakeholders. Since 1968, this kind of problem has been referred to as the so-called “wicked problem” [1]. Just as these problems are complex and entangled and difficult to navigate in, likewise are the networks by which they are surrounded and participate in. In order to navigate and manage complex problems and networks, it is beneficial for project, program, and portfolio managers to use simple tools for creating structure. This is where the tool “Development Arena” by Jørgensen and Sørensen 1999 enters the picture. Using this tool, project, program, and portfolio managers perform as facilitators in the design- and management processes, where dialog and negotiations between different actors and stakeholders are key criteria for a successful project or program. However, this article will mainly focus on the theory related to project management.

The development arena is a systematic and analytical framework that can be used as a tool to understand and analyze processes in which companies and other actors try to influence and control technologies, products, and markets [2]. Under the auspices of project management, the framework is firstly a unique tool to map the complex network of stakeholders, that the project team enters when working on a new project. Secondly, and most important of the use of the development arena is its ability to identify different stakeholders and their needs and dividing them into common grounds with their relevant activities and interests, which can help project managers to be more aware of the environment they are in and the operations that are involved.

This article will provide an insight into what defines a development arena, what elements the arena consists of, and finally how this framework can be used as a tool to actively create a desired change across the network within project management.


Before diving into the development arena and its components, it is essential to understand how this method was developed, as this lays the foundation for the basic understanding of the method.

The concept of Develop Arena takes its most important theoretical inspiration from Bruno Latour, Michel Callon, and John Law’s community of ideas throughout the 1980s and 1990s – especially Actor-network theory (ANT) [3] which was one of the outcomes. Some may know ANT as a theory that can be helpful in the description and understanding of complex, heterogeneous networks, in which both human and non-human actors are involved. These actors are described in the network through the relationships they are part of. Unlike actor-network theory, the concept of development arena focuses rather on how development and change can be created in the network by inviting new actors into the arena and thereby reconfiguring the network. It can be argued that the Arena concept is a response to a need for an improved theory that deals more with transition processes in project management [4].

Another important difference between the two concepts is that the Development Arena concept adds a “spatial dimension” to the theory. This dimension must be understood as a delimitation or division of the network - i.e., the network is divided into different spaces in which different actors interact towards the same goal. [5]. We can now add another concept that better describes these boundaries and spaces in the network - namely "actor-worlds" [6], developed by Callon in 1986. An actor-world represents different industries, organizations and stakeholders with different scientific background and is described by Jørgensen (2012), as; "An actor-world is developed around a certain set of situations and is thereby limited to what we here call a location in the space of a development arena." [7].

In other words, an actor-world only arises through actions of different actors present in the arena and can be seen as utopias that represent specific narratives and behavior. If the actors do not take an active part in decision-making processes or the like, then they will be described as “spectators”, who are passive participating actors [8]. In this way, the Development Arena and the actor-worlds are strongly connected since the actor-world identifies and embraces specific actions that take place in the network.

Finally, it is important to point out that development arenas are constantly evolving and changing, due to the continuous development in society, which the term itself also insinuates; "The word ‘arena’ comes from Arabic. It refers to sand both as the ground for activities and as the never settled character of this ground and its place - it is moving and the ground is thus eternally reshaped [9] [10]. So even though the actual mapping of the arena is static when creating it, it is important to understand that it is still changing and therefore dynamic.

In the following section, the development arena, and the various parts it consists of will be described in more detail.

Development Arenas and actor-worlds

A development arena is generally characterized by four different parts;

  1. a number of elements such as actors, artefacts, and standards that populate the arena,
  2. one or more concerns which are shared by the arena’s actors, and which relate to a common problematization.
  3. a variety of locations for action, knowledge and visions that define the changes of this space, and
  4. a set of translations that has shaped the network, i.e. stabilized and destabilized relations and artefacts [11].


First, the development arena, as in actor-network theory, consists of various elements . The elements must be understood as the actors and actants (both human and non-human) that populate the arena. The elements and their actions help to define the arena and are distributed between different worlds of actors [12]. The actor-worlds represent different fields of knowledge and disciplines based on the actors involved in them. We thus see that it is the actors and their actions that define an actor-world. This means that the different actor-worlds problematize in different ways and that these worlds have their own individual interests. The problematizations that abound in the different actor-worlds are described as the individual concerns or interests of the worlds.


Concerns are, as mentioned earlier, the different problematizations that exist in the different actor-worlds. In the previous section, we mentioned actor-worlds, as spaces where certain actions and interactions take place. The actor-worlds are each supported by different problematizations of their current situation and their individual vision for future development and solutions. Concerns are thus all the individual challenges that the actor-worlds face in order to achieve their goals. These concerns are not necessarily ones that the different actor-worlds share with each other. In connection with the mapping of the arena, there is also the so-called shared area of concern, which is the overall concern that all actors work towards - but often in different ways.


In the development arena, there is no specific location where the actors are - this varies from arena to arena. In fact, there can be many different places where the actions in the arena take place. These locations depend entirely on the actors involved in the arena [13].


The concept of translation originates from Michel Serres, who defines translation as a form of mediation that creates a connection between two things or views that were previously different [14] . In that sense, a translation process has helped to shape the existing network and at the same time destabilize the previous one. It is this understanding of the concept of translation that must be transferred to the arena of development. In connection with project management, project managers, have an important role in being a "translator", whereby they can bring different actors together and into play for a common goal.

By combining these four components, project practitioners can interact and intervene in situations to prevent a particular outcome. Finally, it makes it possible to change development and create the changes needed to achieve a successful project work.

In the next session, it will be discussed how the development arena can be actively used in managing projects and not just as an expanded stakeholder network that provides a better overview.

Development arena as a project management tool

In this section it will be discussed how the role as a project manager comes into play using the development arena and how the tool can be used to actively create a desired change across the network.

When project managers or project teams take on a project, they strive to lead innovation and development in a certain direction. However, this is easier said than done, because it requires that a lot of different nodes in the network are brought together and that the different stakeholders are interested in working towards a common concern. It is also important to point out that it is not necessarily certain that all the different stakeholders are equally interested in being part of the project. In such cases, the project team must broaden their horizon and look into which relevant actors can be invited into the arena. Here the key is to determine and include stakeholder concerns, needs and values which is what the development arena can contribute to.


Using the development arena and its four elements; concerns, elements, locations, and translations, the project team must strive to identify where change can be enabled and how a reconstruction across relationships in the network can be made possible in the arena in order to create the desired change for the project.

Since the theory, by Jørgensen & Sørensen 1999, does not mention any specific procedure or step by step approach for how to use the tool, nor does it set any framework for the appearance of the development arena, it can be argued that this will be up to the reader and the project team themselves. However, the key is to create a strategic collaboration across the industry and associated stakeholders in order to change the structure seen in the snapshot of the development arena. Based on examples from the text by Jørgensen & Sørensen the following approach is suggested:

  1. First, the design team must identify their own role in the project. What is the overall concern that the design team seeks to impose on the other actor-worlds in the arena?
  2. Next the actors relevant to the project must be identified and mapped in the network.
  3. Then, the different relationships need to be tied together across different actors and stakeholders. Here, a pattern usually begins to form, and one can begin to divide the small networks into actor-worlds that acts in the same way. Here it is important to be aware of whether the actors in their assigned arena are working together against the same concern. If not, it may be because the actor is part of another arena, or actively participating in several different arenas. These actors may have a special role in expanding their arena or pulling other actors together across the arenas.
  4. Lastly the design team must identify conditions and strategic actions from other actors that can re-configure the arena. This can both be actors that already exist as a part of the arena, but it can also be other actors who must be invited and translated into the network: "Companies may devise strategies to extend a local arena into the global sphere by making connections to other localities and translating them to be part of the arena. [15].

An example of how the Development Arena can be illustrated:

Before the reconfiguration of the Development Arena:

Figure 1: The figure illustrates an example of a development arena where different actors and stakeholders are each involved. It is important to note that the project team is also part of the arena and that all the different actor-worlds operate with different concerns. [16]

After the rekonfiguration of the Development Arena:

Figure 2: This figure illustrates how the project team has "translated" some of the other actor-worlds to become part of their own concern "Sustainable Development" by creating an interest to be a part of this collaboration. This reconfiguration of the arena shows how the project team has changed the structure of the system by creating an interest in sustainable development, which is also to the benefit and interest of the other actor-worlds. In addition, sustainable development is a competitive element that can benefit the image and profit of existing stakeholders in the network.

Where in management processes can the theory be used? Development arenas, as a project tool, can be used in several phases during a design process. Based on the Double Diamond model, the tool is developed as part of the initial phase (discover phase), where the project team examines the field, ie. the stakeholders and actors involved, as well as their interests, visions, and goals and finally which relevant assets/objects that play a role in the network. Here, the development arena provides the first overview and creates a system delimitation of the complex network. Later in the design process (define, develop and deliver phase), management practitioners can again use the development arena to look at conflicting perspectives that are in the network and how these can be reconciled across different actors and actor-worlds to find a common solution (as seen in figure 2). In other words, the development arena is a tool that can be used throughout the design process, from beginning to end, and is something that the project team can always revert to.


Limitations in application

However, the tool development arena has certain limitations in theory and in its use in practice. First of all, the tool consists of many different parts and it can be difficult to understand the theory the first time you read it. In addition, it can also be difficult to distinguish the theory from other surveys such as Actor-network theory, System Demarcation analysis and Situation Analysis. Another limitation of the tool is that it can not be used directly to stage negotiations across actors in the network, but instead leaves this to the design team. Rather it will be the responsibility of the design team to initiate these negotiations in combination with other management tools such as 'staging negotiation spaces' using boundary objects, co-creation, and so on. Furthermore, it can be a challenge for design practitioners to set appropriate system boundaries in relation to the project statement. If the system boundaries are too broad, then it can be difficult to assess where changes can take place and which actors it will have an impact on. It is therefore important to set the necessary system boundaries so that relevant actors are not excluded in later negotiations.

How does the tool relate to project management's four core practices; purpose, people, complexity and uncertainty?

Within project managements four core practices, development arenas mostly affect “people” and “complexity” and to a lesser extent “uncertainty”, since it also tries to predict what changes in the network can be made and for whom it will effect. 'People' because the project practitioners need to identify different stakeholders and their needs since these are the ones that are going to be affected, both directly and indirectly by the outcome of the project. 'Complexity', since Development Arenas try to break down the purpose and the complexities by delimiting the network into smaller parts such as actors and actor-worlds. 'Uncertainty' since projects are complex and the design team must try to navigate in an uncertain context and make decisions with limited data and information [17]. The tool, therefore, covers a wide field within project management, and to be more precise, the tool touches on some of the main principles within the 12 principles of project management, among others; "3.3 Effectively engage with stakeholders", "3.5 Recognize, evaluate, and respond to system interactions" and "3.9 Navigate complexity" [18].


This article has introduced the reader to the concept of "development arena", which in short can be used to frame various complex and heterogeneous processes in the desire for a technological development and change. By using the development arena as a strategic tool, one can reconfigure the arena and the various networks towards a specific technological development – a shared area of concern. As a project team, you therefore seek to destabilize the stabilized network that we know as business as usual, by imposing on the arena a common concern that can be to the actors' own advantage. This advantage may be something that the various stakeholders didn’t even realize that they needed but is now something that they cannot do without. Lastly, if a project team are to come up with a solution that is durable, and will be implemented in the future, they need to take the stakeholder's needs into account, otherwise, the project may not be implemented at all. In the end, the concept of Development Arena is all about understanding the actors in the arena in combination with their strategies, concerns, framings, and their options for action.

To get a better overview of what a development arena can contribute to within project management, here is a short summary:

  1. It can provide managers to broaden their perspective in relation to the project and to get an overview of the context that the project operates in <ref< Jørgensen, U., & Sørensen, O. H. (1999). Arenas of development - A space populated by actor-worlds, artefacts, and surprises. Technology Analysis and Strategic Management, 11(3), 409–429. </ref>.
  2. It estimates an idea of which stakeholders that could be potential partners but also which could be competitors and a threat to reach the goal of the project if they do not want to be part of the collaboration.
  3. Finally, the mapping of the development arena can help to understand the network that the design team operates within and in the future be a helpful tool to navigate the network when it comes to translating and inviting potential new actors into the network to create a negotiation between actors and hence a change.
Figure 1: Summary of key takeaways of the theory of Development Arenas. [19]

Just as projects are only temporary due to the end date, so are the development arenas, but instead in relation to the constant change. This does not mean that arenas can be finished - they can never be finished because they are constantly evolving. After the project is completed, the arena will still change even though the project has been stabilized in the arena. If we observe the development in the arena after the project team has stepped out of the arena, we will most likely, in the near future experience that new actors will enter the arena and other actors will step out. This also symbolizes the big picture where different companies outcompete each other in the desire for growth and to keep up with the different trends in society.

Annotated Bibliography

It is suggested to read the relevant literature below to gain a better understanding of the theory and its use in practice. Again, it should be pointed out that this theory is very abstract when used in the first attempt, but after going in depth with the literature below, one should have a better understanding of the theory.

  • Jørgensen, U. (2012). Mapping and navigating transitions - The multi-level perspective compared with arenas of development.

This article reflects on transitions of sociotechnical systems by comparing two different approaches; AoD (Arenas of Development) and MLP (Multi Level Perspective). In the article, Jørgensen gives different examples in relation to transition studies by describing three different cases. Where MLP is based on the understanding of interactions across three different levels of society; niches, regimes and landscapes, then conversely AoD takes it outset in an increased awareness of actors and their individual actions and interest in the network.

  • Jørgensen, U., & Sørensen, O. H. (1999). Arenas of development - A space populated by actor-worlds, artefacts, and surprises.

This paper outlines how different phenomena such as mapping a socio-technical field, how changes within this field can be created and how the field can be reconstructed as part of a larger network. The authors Jørgensen and Sørensen strive to find out how these phenomena can be managed and present, in this connection, the reader to the concept of development arena. The term is suggested to perform as an analytical framework or a cognitive space for research.

This paper outlines four central “moments of translation” (Callon, 1986) identified in the study of an investigation into the decreasing population of scallops in the St. Brieuc Bay. The four moments of translations are; problematization, interessement, enrolement and mobilization. Connected, these four elements constitute the translation process that builds and modifies networks. If the reader is interested in going in depth with the sociology of translation, then this article is particularly appropriate to the study of technology and science in structuring power relationships.


  1. Rittel, H. W., & Webber, M. M. (1992). Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning. Washington Quarterly, 15(1), 157–168.
  2. Jørgensen, U., & Sørensen, O. H. (1999). Arenas of development - A space populated by actor-worlds, artefacts, and surprises. Technology Analysis and Strategic Management, 11(3), 409–429.
  3. Jørgensen, U. (2012). Mapping and navigating transitions - The multi-level perspective compared with arenas of development. Research Policy, 41(6), 996–1010.
  4. Jørgensen, U. (2012). Mapping and navigating transitions - The multi-level perspective compared with arenas of development. Research Policy, 41(6), 996–1010.
  5. Jørgensen, U. (2012). Mapping and navigating transitions - The multi-level perspective compared with arenas of development. Research Policy, 41(6), 996–1010.
  6. Callon, M. (1986). Sociologi of an Actor-Network - Michel Callon.pdf.
  7. Jørgensen, U. (2012). Mapping and navigating transitions - The multi-level perspective compared with arenas of development. Research Policy, 41(6), 996–1010.
  8. (Udviklingsarena – aktør verdner, Strategisk Konceptudvikling AAU, C. Clausen og S. Pedersen 2021)
  9. Fink, H. (1996), ‘Arenabegreber - mellem ørkensand & ørkensand’ (Notions of arenas - from desert sand to desert sand), in H. Fink (ed.), Arenaer - om politik & inscenesættelse (Arenas of politics and performance), Aarhus: Aarhus Universitetsforlag, pp. 7-22.
  10. Jørgensen, U. (2012). Mapping and navigating transitions - The multi-level perspective compared with arenas of development. Research Policy, 41(6), 996–1010.
  11. Jørgensen, U., & Sørensen, O. H. (1999). Arenas of development - A space populated by actor-worlds, artefacts, and surprises. Technology Analysis and Strategic Management, 11(3), 409–429.
  12. Callon, M. (1986). Sociology of an Actor-Network - Michel Callon.pdf.
  13. Jørgensen, U., & Sørensen, O. H. (1999). Arenas of development - A space populated by actor-worlds, artefacts, and surprises. Technology Analysis and Strategic Management, 11(3), 409–429.
  14. Elgaard Jensen, T. (2003). Aktør-Netværksteori – en sociologi om kendsgerninger, karakker og kammuslinger. Papers in Organization, 48, 1–32
  15. Jørgensen, U., & Sørensen, O. H. (1999). Arenas of development - A space populated by actor-worlds, artefacts, and surprises. Technology Analysis and Strategic Management, 11(3), 409–429.
  16. Udviklingsarena – aktør verdner, Strategisk Konceptudvikling AAU, C. Clausen og S. Pedersen 2021).
  17. Slide; Recap of project management, Christian Thuesen
  18. (A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK ® Guide) – 7th Edition (2017))
  19. Jørgensen, U. (2012). Mapping and navigating transitions - The multi-level perspective compared with arenas of development. Research Policy, 41(6), 996–1010.
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