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Development programming in fragile and conflict-affected states can present daunting challenges, not the least when trying to generate learning for adaptive programming. Settings are fluid and actors are transient, while limited access to many parts of a country hampers the delivery of quality research and evaluation. The urgency of humanitarian needs also makes it difficult for donors to prioritize sustainable approaches that ultimately build the resilience of local communities.
USAID funded the Promoting Resilience through Ongoing Participatory Engagement and Learning (PROPEL) project in South Sudan to help fill the learning gap on methods to strengthen local resilience. PROPEL uses a locally-driven, learning-oriented approach to engage with communities in identifying their needs and priorities, and simultaneously prepare learning deliverables to inform the design of future development interventions in South Sudan. To ensure a thoughtful community-driven development (CDD) approach, PROPEL uses CLA so that stakeholders—beneficiaries, local leaders, PROPEL programming field teams, Monitoring, Evaluation, Research and Learning (MERL) staff and senior management, as well as Mission counterparts—continually reflect on and integrate learning into program decisions.
This study focuses on the challenges and opportunities faced by the PROPEL team in balancing the need to meet project performance targets in gradually worsening conditions, yet still carve out time to reflect on stakeholder input, M&E findings and associated learnings, and subsequently adapt approaches. PROPEL’s CLA tools and systems have enabled the team to respond to communities in the fragile context of South Sudan while also tracking and documenting good practices and adaptations likely to improve resilience—all despite field access constraints and activity interruptions stemming from a deteriorating security and political situation.