Skip to main content

Context-Driven Adaptation (Overview)



PEA Field Guide


The ability of USAID programs to support and promote sustained development depends on our understanding of the local context and the incentives that lie behind observed behaviors and outcomes. In the countries where we work the context is never exactly the same one day to the next, so USAID staff and partners need to make learning about the context and adapting programs as needed, a part of their daily work.


This approach has been called different names--Thinking and Working Politically (TWP), Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation, or Doing Development Differently. In USAID, this effort is being supported through a broad collaboration among DCHA/DRG, PPL, the Lab, OAA, and staff in technical and regional offices throughout the Agency. To reflect on the full range of efforts within USAID that seek to respond to factors in the context, we sometimes describe this work simply as Context Driven Adaptation.


This collection provides a range of tools, examples, and other resources to support staff in this effort. Please use the navigation menu to the left to explore the collection. You might also find the following materials relevant:

  • Local Ownership & Sustainability
    Local Ownership and Sustainability are described in the Local Ownership Discussion Note (available for USAID staff on ProgramNet). Context-driven adaptation and the desire to match programming to local power dynamics and incentives often depend on strong local champions to inform and lead efforts. And local ownership is only possible where we understand the incentives acting on the local system and can inform our partnerships with this understanding, so TWP is essential to local ownership.

  • Capacity 2.0
    This page organizes a set of materials that provide information and support around Capacity 2.0. Capacity 2.0 is an updated understanding of how USAID and its partners can most effectively strengthen organizations. Capacity 2.0 strengthens organizations through improving their fit to local systems. It posits that foregrounding connections and adaptiveness is more transformative than standardized "best practice" procedures. Capacity 2.0 focuses on adaptive capabilities through nonlinear approaches, networking and strategic partnering, shared ownership, learning through experimentation and feedback, data-driven decision making, and a focus on leveraging and developing capacity at the systems levels, not just at the organizational ones.

    Capacity 2.0 is relevant to context-driven adaptation because the approach to strengthening local partners often overlaps with supporting their ability to think and work politically. By incorporating capacity 2.0 considerations into our TWP efforts, we can ensure that we strengthen the sustainability not only of the results of our partnership, but our partners' ability to use similar approaches effectively on subsequent development efforts of their own. This simultaneously offers better capacity development and more sustainable consideration of context-driven adaptation in locally-owned development efforts.

  •  Local Systems and Systems Thinking
    Learning Lab holds a number of resources oriented toward applying systems thinking to our work. All of these techniques are rooted in the Local Systems Framework. More detail is provided in the 5 Rs Discussion Note. You can also see a short presentation on the relationship between systems thinking and political economy.

    These techniques play a central role in enabling context-driven adaptation, since they identify ways to define, describe, and understand the context as a system, and better suit our programming approaches to fit.


Key Resources:

Community of Practice:

To be added to the Thinking and Working Politically (TWP) listserv, please contact Sarah Swift ([email protected]).