DRG TIG Week: Nimbly Adapting Democracy, Rights and Governance Programs during Global Democratic Decline by Lauren Serpe

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Good morning, evaluators! I am Lauren Serpe, chair of AEA’s Democracy, Human Rights and Governance (DRG) topical interest group, and Deputy Technical Director of the global Learning, Evidence and Impact team at Pact

Our AEA365 blog week coincides with the annual United Nation’s International Day of Democracy because our TIG focuses on evaluation of programs that aim to build democratic institutions, such as civil society and a free press. 

Democracy has been in a steady decline globally and for international DRG programs this has created a need for community-led, flexible approaches for tracking context and performance data for evidence-based learning and adaptation.  

This year, the DRG TIG will continue to explore challenges and how we can learn from and make improvements in the status quo. Our blogs this week will explore the following themes:  

  • Using process tracing in authoritarian contexts 
  • Strengthening citizen-centered governance through opinion polls 
  • Shifting paradigms of DRG programs towards a learning purpose 
  • Thinking and working politically in the evidence moment
  • Efforts to improve solutions for women and girls
  • Creative visualization of qualitative Outcome Harvesting data

This first blog frames one way DRG evaluators thrive in these challenging operating contexts: Establishing robust Adaptive Management (AM)-focused MEL systems. To address a need for practical tools to implement a Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning system rooted in nimble Adaptive Management, Pact developed an Adaptive Management Guidebook with eight customizable tools to operationalize an AM system. After a few years of projects using this guidebook to establish AM systems, we have identified some best practices to keep in mind: 

  • Leadership should promote a culture of learning: Allow space for learning from success and failure, and make learning part of everyone’s jobs.  
  • Place “communities” at center: Acknowledge the true knowledge holders are the “communities” (project stakeholders) we are in partnership with, while also trying to mitigate the inherent power dynamics; make their inputs central to decision-making.  

This summer, four months after the full-scale Russian invasion began in Ukraine, Pact trained our Ukraine partners on how to implement an AM system in an environment few envisioned would materialize for our programming. In developing this training, we acknowledged a gap in the guidebook on operating an AM system in a war zone. We consulted MEL colleagues at Care, who have more experience than Pact working in active conflict zones and Care’s Approach to Adaptive Management. We also learned of challenges facing our Ukraine partners, and the creative approaches they are taking to collect and analyze context and performance data for adaptation.   

Hot Tips

  • Data vs intuition: While it may be tempting to operate on intuition in a volatile environment, decision-making will be improved if you are intentional about what data is needed for immediate decisions—you will avoid repeating mistakes and be able to act quickly and with purpose.  
  • Context indicators and scenario planning is key: Expect faster change. Windows of opportunity are short—use existing systems/networks. Be proactive with donors. 
  • Planning: It is necessary to balance short-term planning in a war zone with an eye toward long-term planning of the post-war period, despite the uncertainty of how that may look and when that may be.  
  • Do no Harm: Consider human life/risks associated with each pivot, and those who will be put at risk should be the ones making those decisions. 
  • Embed MEL thinking in all: MEL and program people should operate as one  .

Rad Resources

Get Involved


The American Evaluation Association is hosting Democracy, Human Rights & Governance TIG Week with our colleagues in the Democracy, Human Rights & Governance Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our DRG TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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