Navigating adaptive approaches for development programmes

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Navigating adaptive approaches for development programmes
This working paper compares six of the most prominent adaptive approaches to emerge over the past two decades. Three come from the world of innovation, largely in the private sector (agile, lean startup and human-centred design), and three from the global development sector (thinking and working politically, forms of adaptive management and problem-driven iterative adaptation). While all of these approaches are valuable when used in the right context, practitioners may be perplexed by the multiplicity of methods and jargon. This paper aims to address some of this confusion by mapping where these approaches have come from and showing how they can be applied across the adaptive programme cycle. Armed with this knowledge, practitioners might experiment with different combinations and sequences of adaptive approaches according to the kind of problem and context faced. In turn, this may help us move beyond a siloed view of approaches linked to innovation, adaptive management or more politically smart ways of working. Key messages: • Adaptive approaches have emerged in several sectors, including software development, product and service design, technology startups and international development. • Adaptive approaches can help practitioners counteract misplaced certainty. By talking to potential users, understanding institutions, interests and ideas and investigating the root causes of a problem, practitioners applying these approaches can illuminate the underlying nature of the problem and context. • Rather than building a whole solution straight away, these approaches commonly encourage practitioners to start small and use structured cycles of testing and learning. There is scope to further consider how different approaches can be better brought together and combined. • Adaptive approaches in development provide a wider range of options for what to create and facilitate – not only products or services, but also forms of collective action. There are also alternative ways to think about scale – considering how others might take up an idea and looking for leverage, rather than quantity.
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Working Paper
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Pett, J. (2020). Navigating adaptive approaches for development programmes (No. 589; Working Paper, p. 31). ODI.