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Supporting adaptive management: monitoring and evaluation tools and approaches

Working paper

Written by Tiina Pasanen

Hero image description: Adaptive management links Image credit:ODI

This working paper introduces a set of monitoring and evaluation (M&E) tools and approaches, discussing their potential usefulness in supporting adaptive management in development and humanitarian programmes. It emphasises adaptive programmes characterised by complex aspects, such as: (1) they are innovative; (2) they have uncertain pathways for change; or (3) they operate in uncertain or unstable environments.

Key messages

  • The majority of these tools have been used in international development for many years. However, adaptive management brings additional challenges for monitoring and evaluating programmes, as they require intentional M&E design from the start that is oriented towards both learning and accountability.
  • All of the tools and approaches introduced in this paper have the potential to support learning and adaptation, although in various ways and at different stages of a programme. Some tools can support strategic planning and diagnosing throughout a programme – especially during design and inception – while others can help analyse causal relationships at specific points in a programme. It is important to tailor the approach used for its intended purpose. However, whether learning and adaptation happens depends also on factors other than the choice of M&E methods.
  • For some of these approaches a considerable body of evidence already exists but, for many, more practical examples and systematic analysis is needed. In addition to building the evidence base concerned with which approaches are suitable for different types of adaptive programme and why, it is also important to improve understanding of the enabling environmental conditions necessary for the tools and approaches outlined here to facilitate and strengthen evaluative thinking, evidence-informed decision-making and ongoing programme iteration.
Adaptive management links
Image credit:ODI
Tiina Pasanen and Inka Barnett