Using evaluation for adaptive management

Adaptive management, adaptive programming

This page on using evaluation for adaptive management is currently in progress. We are working with BetterEvaluation's Community to curate and co-create knowledge about this, which will be documented on the BetterEvaluation site. You can become involved in this process by filling out our EOI form below.

About this page

This page is being used as a staging ground for ideas, experiences, advice and resources about using evaluation for adaptive management that have been contributed by the BetterEvaluation community as part of our e-discussion around using evaluation for adaptive management. We haven't captured everything that's been contributed yet and we'll be updating this page as we go along so please continue to check back. You can find version information at the bottom of this page, along with a list of people who have contributed. 

We’d love to hear your thoughts on what's been gathered so far in the comments below. And if you'd like to be involved in the discussion further and help with the development of an Adaptive Management page, please register your interest and let us know what examples, advice, resources or questions you'd like to share.

Preliminary ideas identified in the e-discussion

Challenges for using evaluation for adaptive management

  • Poorly conceptualised Theories of Change 
  • Lack of supportive environment to implement change
  • Capacity of the programme team for evaluative activities
  • Capacity of managers for adaptive management, e.g. the ability to manage where there are higher levels of uncertainty, ability to make decisions with incomplete data that may not meet all standards of quality
  • Implementers can be too focused on activities that short or intermediate level outcomes are not checked
  • The complexity of the intervention, and the complexity of the evaluation itself
  • Managing trade-offs to produce relevant, timely and good enough data that is appropriate to how the information is going to be used
  • Moving away from an 'accountability' mindset
  • Aligning the interests and practices of internal and external stakeholders with adaptive management
  • Having adequate resources - people, time and money

Advice for using evaluation for adaptive management

  • It's important to understand funders and stakeholders expectations regarding the programme design and implementation approach - to what degree does their culture, processes and systems provide a supportive environment for adaptive management
  • Evaluators will need to spend a good bit of time upfront clarifying expectations among project staff, managers, and/or funders
  • Reach agreement with stakeholders about what 'good enough' data looks like early in the process
  • Coming to clear agreement early about what kinds of strategies can and cannot be adapted and to what degree is also a critical step
  • Assess whether adaptive management is appropriate given the organisational/programme needs, programme characteristics, stakeholders, and skill sets of staff and managers etc.
  • Capacity building among project managers is often needed that enhances their ability to incorporate field staff experience into decision-making and roll-out of programmatic changes. 
  • An organisational learning culture needs to be created and supported to increase the chances that the evaluator's recommendations for adaptation can be received as support rather than critique.
  • Incorporating feedback loops throughout the evaluation process is key to success (for example, Real Time Evaluation and Developmental Evaluation
  • Data integration, its iterative use and methodological consistency in evaluating results are important when delivering a complex project
  • Failing can enable learning if integrated into rapid, structured, iterative cycles and can help sharpen impact and effectiveness over time

Resources suggested by the BetterEvaluation Community

Strategy Testing: An Innovative Approach to Monitoring Highly Flexible Aid Programs: This paper by Debra Ladner describes a new monitoring system developed by The Asia Foundation under the DFAT-TAF
Partnership called Strategy Testing, which was developed to track programs that are addressing complex
development problems through a highly iterative, adaptive ‘searching’ approach. Suggested by both Michael Moses and Nicola Giordano.

The Science in Adaptive Management: This paper by Matt Ripley and Sabine Jaccard ILO, explores adaptive management's history in natural resource management to learn how adaptive management has moved from paper to practice, extracting a set of 6 principles underpinning its real-world application. The authors reflect on these in relation to their experiences running the Lab, an International Labour Organization (ILO) project using a market systems approach to improve working conditions in developing economies, to see how adaptive management can be used for greater impact.  

GPSA Note 5: Adaptive Learning: This note is the fifth in the Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA)'s six-part series 'Are We Ready for Strategic Social Accountability?' and is a diagnostic of field readiness for adaptive management. This note takes stock of the way a sample of 40 entries from the first two rounds of GPSA applications use learning, monitoring and evaluation to provide immediate feedback to improve the effectiveness of their social accountability interventions. This resource was suggested by Florencia Guerzovich.

Outcome Evidencing: A Method for Enabling and Evaluating Program Intervention in Complex Systems: This article was suggested by Boru Douthwaite. It describes the development and use of a rapid evaluation approach to meet program accountability and learning requirements in a research for development program operating in five developing countries.

The Donor Committee for Enterprise Development (DCED) Standard for Results Measurement: This framework helps programmes develop and manage results measurement systems for private sector development programmes. Suggested by Donna Loveridge, the DCED Standard promotes evaluative thinking and the use of evaluative data during implementation.

Outcome Harvesting: Outcome Harvesting can be a useful approach for adaptive management. Outcome Harvesting is particularly useful when outcomes, and even, inputs, activities and outputs, are not sufficiently specific or measurable at the time of planning an intervention. It is well-suited for evaluation in dynamic, uncertain (i.e., complex) situations.

Enhancing Evaluation Use: Insights from Internal Evaluation Units: This book touches on relevant topics to adaptive management from different national, supranational and international organisations' internal evaluation units. The focus of the book is on expressing the challenges, solutions and lessons in fostering organisational evaluative thinking and learning cultures.

Putting learning at the centre: adaptive development programming in practice: This ODI paper begins by clarifying why and what kind of learning matters for adaptive programming. The paper then turns its focus to how strategies and approaches applied throughout a programme’s conception, design, management and M&E can enable it to continually learn and adapt.

Thank you to our contributors

  • Gavin Stedman-Bryce
  • Boru Douthwaite
  • John Dalton
  • Michael Moses
  • Donna Loveridge
  • Ricardo Wilson-Grau
  • Florencia Guerzovich
  • Kowsar Gowhari
  • Marlene Laeubli Loud
  • Nicola Giordano
  • Brandi Olson
  • Sonia Chen
  • Riccardo Polastro
  • Ricky Kuswardono
  • Ian Goldman
  • J. Nelson-Weaver

Page version

Version 1.1 - Updated March 30, 2017

Updated: 14th May 2018 - 4:17pm
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