From purposeful to meaningful adaptive programming: how about adaptive operations?
By Nicola Nixon Adaptive programming is de rigueur. Everyone’s into it. It’s been this way for some time. Yet not unlike its own reason for being, the field of adaptive programming is messy. Every mum of toddlers knows: some mess is healthy. But presently it’s difficult to see the forest for the iterative jargon. As ODI has pointed out, the field generally lacks rigour. It contains gaps, is frequently misunderstood, and rarely – at least in my experience – are its implications for the program fully understood by all those at the wheel of the steering committee. Like all good problems, however, the adaptive programming challenge contains hints of its own solution. If we pull it apart a little – by taking a look back at how we got to where we are – and the ongoing challenges to do this better, there are some pieces of the puzzle we may have missed.
Over the past ten or so years, there are three discernible phases to the adaptive trend in international development practice. The first phase addressed the ‘Why?’. Learned folk on all sides of the Atlantic produced detailed, evidence-based articulations of why development programs need to adapt more effectively to the contexts in which they operate. The evidence was suggesting that traditional program approaches were either at risk of having no impact or, worse, of doing harm. These insights occurred in parallel with significant improvements in program evaluation methods. Broadly speaking, the evaluators were in concert: so many large development programs simply weren’t achieving the outcomes they set out to achieve. Long-winded multi-year technical approaches to solving complex, wicked problems of development just weren’t cutting the mustard.
Lots of people got on board with the idea: that programs would be more effective if they were designed and implemented in such a way …read more