Discussion Note: Adaptive Management
This Discussion Note complements ADS 188.8.131.52 Program Cycle Principles by elaborating on Principle 2: Manage Adaptively through Continuous Learning. This Discussion Note is intended for USAID staff interested in learning about recent and promising practices in adaptive management across the Program Cycle.
USAID’s work takes place in environments that are often unstable and in transition. Even in more stable contexts, circumstances evolve and may affect programming in unpredictable ways. For its programs to be effective, USAID must be able to adapt in response to changes and new information. The ability to adapt requires an environment that promotes intentional learning and flexible project and activity design, minimizes the obstacles to modifying programming and creates incentives for managing adaptively.
Adaptive management is defined in ADS 201.6 as “an intentional approach to making decisions and adjustments in response to new information and changes in context.” Adaptive management is not about changing goals during implementation, it is about changing the path being used to achieve the goals in response to changes. Like other donors and development organizations (see, for example, the following initiatives: Doing Development Differently, Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation, Thinking and Working Politically, and The World Bank’s Global Delivery Initiative), USAID is increasingly recognizing the importance of adaptability for its work to be effective. ADS 201 now integrates adaptive management approaches throughout the Program Cycle.
“Manage adaptively through continuous learning” is one of the four core principles that serve as the foundation for Program Cycle implementation.
This Discussion Note is organized around the phases of the Program Cycle (strategy, project, and activity design and implementation; monitoring and evaluation; and learning and adapting); While the adaptive management approaches described here are examples of initial entry points associated with a specific phase of the Program Cycle, many of these approaches lead to adjustment in other areas. The note concludes with sections on enabling conditions and a description of the skills and attributes of adaptive managers.