Adaptive Management: In the Loop
Is your education project in places where the threat of conflict is ever-present, where militias, gangs, or just bullies are just around the corner, and where one runs away from rather than toward security forces for help? These situations, in the words of Ben Ramalingam, present “wicked problems,” where:
- Goals are difficult to define, often with powerful stakeholders diverging on personal, political, and institutional interests;
- Change requires shifts in culturally conditioned relationships and behavior;
- Changes in relationships and behavior emerge through multiple interacting occasions, and are recursive and unpredictable;
- Changes are spread across multiple actors, sectors, and contexts – governance, economics, health, education – in homes, communities, and in organizations;
- Social change is difficult to measure, as it involves dynamic relationships, the exercise of power, organizational reforms, and individuals’ behavior.
Are you being smart in the design of education programs and projects in these contexts? Are you "in the loop" with adaptive management? In the provocative paper Development Entrepreneurship, Jaime Fustino and David Booth argue that the evidence is clear: 1) institutions shape development outcomes, and 2) institutional reform involves power and politics. It is not just technical interventions – such as a new accelerated learning program (ALP), or a training program for teachers on a conflict-sensitive curriculum – that assures sustained access, safety, and learning. Rather, we should learn from the private sector, where sustained social reforms are nurtured by starting small, and learning with smart feedback loops. It looks like this:
Achieving Outcomes under Uncertainty: Feedback Loops
There is a rich and growing literature about the importance of managing [education] development in conflict-affected environments using adaptive programming and feedback loops. Faustino and Booth, drawing from research in the field, summarize what smart managers do when faced with these contexts:
- Use the logic that allows goals to emerge from the varied imagination and diverse aspirations of local committed leaders and the people you work with;
- Use monitoring for iterative learning, choosing "measures that matter." These measures tell you, and your stakeholders and partners, how well you are moving toward meaningful outcomes;
- Learn by doing: start small, evolve from "educated guesses" about what will work well based on feedback from measures that matter; use "failed attempts" as opportunities to learn and improve;
- Evolve your theory of change based on this feedback. Drop what isn’t working; seek creative ways forward: “Successful interventions develop a series of time and context specific theories of change.”
Does this look like what you are able to accomplish with your Education in Crisis and Conflict program or project? If YES, share your experience. If NO, what are the barriers?