Lab Reflection: The Year of Managing Adaptively

Apr 9, 2021 by Learning Lab Team Comments (0)

Over the past year, many of us have relied on a plethora of adaptive management guidance and tools – many more than we might have reasonably anticipated – to meet the unique challenges of development programming during a global pandemic. In this blog, we’ve pulled together highlights of the remarkable insights that the Learning Lab community has shared over the past year that shed light on how this community has been managing adaptively. Taking stock, we appreciate the breadth of information and knowledge that has been collectively circulated and expanded upon.

Managing adaptively, as the ability to “[respond] to changes and new information” in an unstable context and environment, is an expansive topic that begs to be made concrete and intentionally applied. That’s why it’s so important to develop and share specific guides, tools, and resources that put the phrase “managing adaptively” into practice. And we push the boundaries of what we learn in doing so.

Some teams use tools as they are in an off-the-shelf or plug-and-play manner. Others may rely on these same tools as a jumping off point for thinking through their precise needs and designing a more customized approach around, let’s say, pulling off a collaborative stakeholder workshop remotely, or exploring digital tools for monitoring.

This blog provides a quick and useful timeline of and reference to resources for managing adaptively collected across the Learning Lab community. Alongside the Adaptive Management cluster in the CLA Toolkit, which we encourage readers to (re)visit, this assembly of shared learning and experience will be an aid as we continue to confront the challenges of disruptive and unexpected change, now and in the future.

Early Days: USAID and Partners Answer the Call for Information Sharing

In mid-March last year, in response to USAID and many other organizations and teams transitioning to working from home, Learning Matters shared The Ultimate Tip Sheet for Working Remotely. It became 2020’s top featured resource from the newsletter.

The next month, we posted an open call for blogs on CLA and COVID-19, and our partners shared inspiring and unique experiences in managing their programs and activities. As we started to collect some of these shared stories and insights, we also published "Resources for Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning during COVID-19" (the second top feature of 2020), a collection of USAID materials for adapting data collection, adaptive management, and COVID-19 guidance for implementing partners.

The "Implementing Community Contributions to Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning during the COVID-19 Pandemic" page enabled our partners to directly contribute resources as well. This collection has grown to include nearly 25 resources spanning Adapting Data Collection for MEL, Third Party Monitoring, and Evaluations and Research. It includes remote survey toolkits, consideration of recent literature on remote monitoring, digitizing MERL practices, impact evaluations during the time of COVID-19, and many other subtopics.

Summer Stage: Hosting Convenings and Joint Learning

Alongside these written references and tools, it was also crucial to convene USAID staff and partners in a live format. USAID’s Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning and the US Global Development Lab invited partners to join the COVID-19 Monitoring Resources Webinar, hosted in June. (The webinar transcript, recording, and presentation materials are now available.) The webinar reviewed USAID’s Guide for Adopting Remote Monitoring Approaches during COVID-19, while exploring examples of how Missions are using phone surveys to measure COVID-19 impacts in Ethiopia, building response plans in Nepal, and learning from successes and limitations of remote monitoring in Afghanistan.

Year’s End: Maintaining Momentum for Sharing and Learning

The "Global Learning for Adaptive Management (GLAM) Initiative" page offers a timely package of adaptive management tools and resources published in the fall, with additional resources added at the beginning of 2021. The initiative – a partnership between USAID and the Department for International Development (DFID) – “provides tailored guidance and practical support on adaptive management to practitioners and policymakers, generates high-quality evidence and learning about effective monitoring, evaluation and learning for adaptive management, and acts as a catalyst, champion and convenor to change thinking and practice.”

Throughout the year, many other blogs, guides, and resources were produced and shared by USAID, partners, and international development community members, some of which we highlight below and many others which can be found on the Learning Lab blog.

Featured highlights:

We invite you to let the Learning Lab team know what topics you’ve enjoyed reading about, what you’d like to learn more about, and submit your blog ideas or drafts on the site or directly to [email protected]