EERS Week: Adapt!: Lessons for evaluation from the #AdaptDev community by Tom Archibald

My name is Tom Archibald, Assistant Professor in the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education at Virginia Tech and Board Member of the Eastern Evaluation Research Society (EERS). In keeping with this week’s reflections on the EERS 2019 conference theme, Adapt! Evaluators in a Changing World, I would like to share some insights and resources from the adaptive development community, a group which has emerged in recent years among international development practitioners and scholars who sensed the need for more adaptive responses in the complex, dynamic, contested spaces of global development. The group is informal, but has coalesced around a community via a Google group (launched by Alan Hudson and Dave Algoso) and a social media hashtag, #AdaptDev.

First, what do people mean by “adaptive development?” USAID describes it as “an intentional approach to making decisions and adjustments in response to new information and changes in context.” We, in the field of evaluation, ought to have some insight and relevance about how to do this better, right?

Rad Resources:

  • The Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting (CLA) toolkit of USAID contains useful resources on how to manage more adaptively, including how to use monitoring, evaluation, and learning strategies to do so. A discussion note on the topic has lots of applicability to evaluation, as does this interactive, visual platform that presents a comprehensive body of evidence on the impact of CLA.
  • LearnAdapt, a collaboration between the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and Brink, explores how to manage adaptive development programs better. It draws on approaches from the development and tech sector including adaptive management, agile ways of working, and lean startup.
  • The Global Learning for Adaptive Management (GLAM) initiative, funded by DFID and USAID, is a globally networked learning alliance aiming to actively identify, operationalize, and promote rigorous evidence-based approaches to adaptive management.
  • The Doing Development Differently manifesto articulates a shared response to the fact that many programs fail because “solutions are not simple or obvious, those who would benefit most lack power, those who can make a difference are disengaged, and political barriers are too often overlooked. Many development initiatives fail to address this complexity, promoting irrelevant interventions that will have little impact.” They propose a set of common principles around learning and adaptation which characterize more successful development programs.

Hot Tips:

Common themes and principles across all of these resources point to issues on which evaluation ought to focus:

  • Learning, not just accountability
  • Accountability in a participatory, democratizing way
  • Attention to voice, power, and ownership
  • Agility and readiness to learn from safe to fail experiments
  • Evaluative thinking as a way of doing business

Are these principles manifest in your evaluation work?

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Eastern Evaluation Research Society (EERS) Affiliate Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from EERS 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.

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