Adaptive practice, sustainable outcomes: Thinking and working politically

At relatively little cost parliamentary strengthening plays a crucial role in the sustainability of international development activity, Lord Malcom Bruce, former Chair of the International Development Committee, commented in his opening remarks as Chair of the ‘Adaptive practice, sustainable outcomes’ session on Wednesday at Canada House.

Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) in partnership with DAI Europe brought together practitioners in the democracy strengthening field to discuss the benefits of an adaptive approach to programming.

What do we mean by thinking and working politically?

The journey the parliamentary strengthening community had come on was highlighted; noting how attitudes to development sat uneasily next to politics and had always focused on economic improvement rather than political change. Development is always inherently political and that is why political economy analysis is an important tool that can help deliver sustainable change. Political institutions are critical to development, because when functioning properly they ensure that vital services are delivered to citizens.

How do we approach adaptive design?

Clarity and confidence are two concepts that need to be emphasised at the design phase of parliamentary support programmes. A robust framework is often needed to implement programmes that can be adapted to changing circumstances without parting from the intended high level outcomes of the organisation. This is linked to building confidence in an organisation among beneficiaries, but also among donors and ensuring that they understand the organisation’s commitment to learn from past lessons. Both clarity and confidence are essential before adaptive methods can be adopted.

You could begin by asking three essential questions: Who are we going to work with? What are you going to do? And how are you going to work? For programmes to succeed, it is important to understand the issues that are blocking reform and engage with those who care about such issues. Working with partners and beneficiaries to identify those gaps is essential. For an adaptive methodology to work in the parliamentary strengthening field transparency with partners about these changes is extremely important.

Capturing successes and failures: Is it time to rethink our frameworks?

Monitoring and Evaluation should play a greater role throughout the programme cycle. Learning whilst implementation is underway allows programmes to refine and improve activities based on the changing context of the environment and based on what is working well or not. Allowing space for honest discussions about how programmes can develop is essential if truly adaptive programming can be achieved. Acknowledgement by donors and implementers that parliamentary strengthening programmes by their nature do not deliver a “quick win” is fundamental for creative programming to flourish.

To achieve the reality of programmes that respond to changing needs commitment is needed from practitioners and donors alike to change their practices. WFD, DAI Europe and the range of practitioners participating in the roundtable are committed to explaining why working in this difficult political space provides real value to development, but also why it needs to be flexible and adaptable to succeed.

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