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Supporting local learning and adaptation: Understanding the effectiveness of adaptive processes

Date added: December 13, 2017

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An increasingly compelling body of evidence suggests that governance reform is inherently political and complex, and that reform efforts are most likely to be successful when:

  • local stakeholders are at the forefront of defining governance challenges, developing and implementing solutions, and pursuing sustainable change; and
  • those stakeholders have the flexibility to learn and adapt as they go, especially when working in complex political contexts.

Yet despite an emerging consensus on the importance of local ownership, and interest in adaptive programming, many donors and multilaterals that seek to support governance reform continue to employ linear, compliance-driven project and programme management frameworks. As a result, implementers and local partners often lack space for learning and adaptation.

This brief reviews the evidence from Learning to Make All Voices Count (L-MAVC), a programme funded by Making All Voices Count, and implemented in collaboration with Global Integrity. L-MAVC intended to support six Making All Voices Count grantees, working in five countries, in co-creating and applying a participatory, learning-centred, and adaptive approach to strengthening citizen engagement in governance processes in their contexts, including with respect to the Open Government Partnership (OGP).

The evidence from L-MAVC suggests that adaptive ways of working can strengthen the impact and effectiveness of efforts to open governance, especially when three conditions are met:

  • implementers proactively interrogate their assumptions, and engage with local stakeholders and the contexts in which they are working
  • adaptive ways of working are integrated into existing systems and procedures in implementing organisations; and
  • implementing organisations are able to maintain staff continuity.

These findings have ramifications for the broader community of actors working to support governance reform, especially donors and multilateral institutions. If these actors are to more effectively and consistently facilitate adaptive programming that contributes to reforms that affect citizens’ lives, substantial changes – with respect to project management approaches and grant-making practices – may be warranted.

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