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Towards evidence-informed adaptive management: a roadmap for development and humanitarian organisations

Working paper

Written by Ben Ramalingam, Leni Wild

Hero image description: Adaptive management links Image credit:ODI

Development and humanitarian organisations seeking to be adaptive have emphasised the need to be transparent about complexity and uncertainty; to be honest about their inability to control what happens; and to design programmes that change over time to become more appropriate and relevant. At their heart, adaptive management approaches emphasise the ability to lean, 'unlearn' and adapt programming accordingly. The cornerstone of effective learning is the creation, gathering, accumulation, interpretation and use of data and evidence. This working paper provides development professionals with tools, strategies and ideas to help them use evidence for adaptive management in practical and evidence-informed ways.

Key messages

  • Evidence is central to effective and rigorous adaptive management. However, despite this central importance, exactly how evidence has been used to inform decisions for adapting development and humanitarian programmes in the past remains unobservable to many.
  • There is a need to strengthen and document evidence-informed adaptive management. This working paper proposes a roadmap to do this.
  • Those seeking to use evidence for adaptive management will need to manage trade-offs between ensuring a rigorous, documented (and auditable) trail of evidence-informed actions, being pragmatic about the time and resources allocated to documentation and recognising that it may be necessary to proceed without rigorous evidence when it is unavailable.

GLAM is a consortium led by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) with the Institute for Development Studies (IDS), the International Rescue Committee, Oxfam, Oxford Policy Management, Social Impact and ThoughtWorks. Visit our project page for more information. 

Adaptive management links
Image credit:ODI
Kevin Hernandez, Ben Ramalingam and Leni Wild