Navigating complexity

Adaptive management at the Northern Karamoja Growth, Health, and Governance Program

Published by
MercyCorps, Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB)

Development actors increasingly agree that managing programmes adaptively – especially complex interventions – can improve their effectiveness. A growing body of evidence supports this claim. But what does adaptive management look like in practice? And what does it require of managers and funders to make happen?

This in-depth case study on adaptive management within Mercy Corps' USAID-funded Northern Karamoja Growth, Health, and Governance Program (GHG), attempts to answer these questions. This case study provides practical examples of where experimentation and adaptation have occurred during implementation, and how this furthered the programme's goal of contributing to systemic change that benefits the poor. The research gives a third-party analysis of the organisational culture, tools, and processes that were put in place to support effective adaptive management. Lessons and examples from building a culture of learning and adaptation include: office culture is fundamental; the importance of consistent messaging from management; and, tools and processes support learning behaviour, they do not create it.

Based on GHG experiences, recommendations are made to donors and practitioners who want to take an adaptive approach. Key recommendations include: adaptive management calls for a change in how managers behave, which has implications for hiring; activity plans and budgets will change frequently, so processes and expectations must be set that allow this to happen; and 'situational awareness' and socio-political intelligence gathering is vital to informing activities.

Useful for:

Funders and implementing organisations wanting to apply adaptive management in the context of development programming.