One of the issues that I’m struggling to wrap my head around is meeting donor requirements while trying to implement an adaptive project. One the one hand, everyone from the donor to the government is on board with the approach, although the government is still a bit wary about the amount of risk they will need to take on in order to see this approach through to the end. On the other hand, donor templates and guidance are still very prescriptive, and examples are entirely linear in their approach. Moreover, examples used in guidance are very concrete (vaccination interventions seem to be a favourite), unlike the less-defined, system-level intervention my colleagues and I are working on.
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With so much theory around adaptive management available, it can be daunting to try to put it into practice in a holistic way. Much of what I know about adaptive management relates to the actual implementation of a program or project itself. Who knew that the planning process would end up being complex and adaptive in its own right?
A few months ago, my colleagues and I invested significant amount of time to design a project that championed local ownership, accountability to beneficiaries and adaptive management. We were explicit about our methodologies and about how the results would be defined by the beneficiaries during the inception phase of the project: our philosophy was that success would be more likely to be achieved if the beneficiaries could decide what success looked like – for them. Beyond the jargon, the proposal was good. Good enough to be approved by the donor and for us to get excited about a project with a truly adaptive management approach. But when it came time to sign the contract, the dreaded ‘payment by results’ phrase magically appeared. Out of nowhere, we were told we needed to have ‘pre-defined results’ before the project could move ahead.