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Issue-based programming in challenging contexts: Learning from Traction Malawi

Briefing/policy papers

Written by Tim Kelsall, Samuel Sharp

Image credit:Godfrey Phiri - Pexels

Traction is a Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office-funded programme that aims to improve the accountability and responsiveness of local and national government in Malawi by building reform coalitions around tangible issues of economic growth and service delivery. Traction’s Issue-Based Projects were organised via a series of ‘Test-Learn-Adapt Sprint Cycles’ that encouraged it to learn about the issues, the context, and how to run an adaptive programme in Malawi.

While Traction has had some successes, its ‘hit-rate’ is rather low. Traction has learned from its mistakes and has made changes that should make failure less likely in the future. To help identify issues that are tractable and feasible in the context and to better link analysis and action, we recommend that Traction also draws more inspiration from political settlements analysis and game theory. Even with these changes, Malawi remains a difficult context for improving growth and service delivery and considerable strategic patience is likely to be required.

In this Learning Brief, we focus on this IBP component, presenting lessons from Traction’s first seven workstreams or Issue-Based Projects (ibps). We provide a brief overview of the different issues tackled, we discuss the way Traction worked and how it learned and adapted, and we then provide some reflections on success.