Impact Practitioners

How to implement adaptive management into development programmes 

By 13/07/2023

This 73-page guidance note written by Abt Associates Australia describes how to implement adaptive management into donor-funded development initiatives. 

It focuses on shifting the practice away from linear and planned approaches (such as log frames) toward initiatives that are politically informed, locally-led, and adaptive. The resource calls this a PILLAR approach

The resource is focused on answering the ‘how’ question of applying adaptive management (AM). The main idea behind AM is that design, implementation and review need to be taken simultaneously – not sequentially as in traditional approaches – and in real time by local actors, i.e. those actually involved in or benefiting from the change. 

The document has two main parts: the first section describes the thinking behind adaptive management, explains three weaknesses in current approaches and presents a revised way of framing the development project cycle. In the second part, the guidance note presents and explains 15 tools for donors, implementors and front-line staff to apply AM throughout the full project cycle (from design to implementation and review). 

The authors identify four major elements of AM:

  1. Adaptive procurement and contracting 

We should shift towards contracts that encourage experimentation, learning and adaptation over static contracts listing how much will be paid for a set of pre-defined actions or outputs. 

  1. Adaptive governance

Adaptive governance and leadership require different policymaking and management approaches and different ways of working between the donor and the partner government, and between the donor and the implementing partner. 

  1. Adaptive programming

Leadership, operations and systems should be designed to enable flexibility and adaptation. The tools described in the resource should help you select, design, implement and review activities, grants and projects using an adaptive approach.

  1. Adaptive delivery

The on-the-ground work is undertaken by front-line providers, supported by a suitable operations platform. This includes how staff are recruited, how budgets are managed, how risk is reported and mitigated, and how results are measured and monitored. 

For each of these elements, the resource puts together a set of tools and notes, which are presented in detail in the second – annexe – section of the document. Overall, there are 15 guidance notes with plenty of practical tips, explainers, templates, worksheets and tools which will help you put the AM approaches into practice. These notes are aimed at practitioners overseeing, designing or implementing aid programs. They represent an adaptive, politically informed and locally-led model for end-to-end aid delivery. 

In conclusion, the resource provides a theoretical and practical guide for implementing adaptive management – PILLAR – into practice. It provides plenty of tools, worksheets and tips covering the whole project cycle. The authors argue for embracing the AM methods as they provide an alternative to traditionally underperforming linear development programmes.

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