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Community Contribution

Adapting to learn and learning to adapt: Practical insights from international development projects

Derick Brinkerhoff, Sarah Frazer, and Lisa McGregor-Mirghani

Adaptive programming and management principles focused on learning, experimentation, and evidence-based decision making are gaining traction with donor agencies and implementing partners in international development. Adaptation calls for using learning to inform adjustments during project implementation. This requires information gathering methods that promote reflection, learning and adaption, beyond reporting on pre-specified data. A focus on adaptation changes traditional thinking about program cycle. It both erases the boundaries between design, implementation, and evaluation and reframes thinking to consider the complexity of development problems and nonlinear change pathways.

Supportive management structures and processes are crucial for fostering adaptive management. Implementers and donors are experimenting with how procurement, contracting, work planning, and reporting can be modified to foster adaptive programming. Well-designed monitoring, evaluation, and learning systems can go beyond meeting accountability and reporting requirements to produce data and learning for evidence-based decision making and adaptive management. It is important to continue experimenting and learning to integrate adaptive programming and management into the operational policies and practices of donor agencies, country partners, and implementers. We need to devote ongoing effort to building the evidence base for the contributions of adaptive management to achieving international development results.

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