This piece originally appeared on Devex on April 20, 2016.
Women participate in an exercise called "daily activity clock" in Jawani, Ghana. Photo by: Nafisa Ferdous / CCAFS / CC BY
Development practitioners need to learn about changes in their local context and adapt interventions accordingly. Seems like common sense, right? But much development thinking and practice is stuck in a linear planning model.
In 1998 David Mosse argued that projects are commonly seen as “closed, controllable and unchanging systems” — and today this problem remains pervasive. The messiness of social change is a seen as a risk in project documents, rather than the starting point for interventions. Too often, the systems, tools and mental models we employ block rather than encourage critical reflection and change in interventions.
There are growing calls for this to change as part of broader attempts to “do development differently.” In our new paper, we argue that learning and adaptation are two sides of the same coin. We show how learning can be integrated throughout development programs. This means moving away from upfront analytical papers gathering dust on shelves, and away from monitoring and evaluation focused purely on upwards accountability. It means getting serious about learning.
Yet the ever present danger with such a revitalized push is that it quickly becomes shortsighted. Based on increasing engagement with donors and practitioners on these issues, here’s what to avoid as the push for learning and adaptive programing gathers pace.
1. Not taking it seriously.
Prioritizing learning within development programing has serious implications for the cost and time of an intervention. Simply making the environment more permissive might not be enough; it will require active donor support and nongovernmental organizations taking responsibility too.
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