Escaping Capability Traps through Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) – Andrews, Pritchett, and Woolcock (2013)


Andrews et al. respond to the perceived failures of a ‘best practice’ reform approach, which they argue focuses largely on superficial changes that discourage the development of state capabilities. As a counter, they propose an alternative approach: Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA). PDIA is based on four core principles, each of which stands in sharp contrast with standard practices. First, PDIA focuses on solving locally nominated and defined problems in performance (as opposed to transplanting pre-conceived and packaged ‘best practice’ solutions). Second, it seeks to create an ‘authorizing environment’ for decision-making that encourages ‘positive deviance’ and experimentation (as opposed to designing projects and programmes and then requiring agents to implement them exactly as designed). Third, it embeds this experimentation in tight feedback loops that facilitate rapid experiential learning (as opposed to enduring long lag times in learning from ex post ‘evaluation’). Fourth, it actively engages broad sets of agents to ensure that reforms are viable, legitimate, relevant and supportable (as opposed to a narrow set of external experts promoting the ‘top down’ diffusion of innovation). The authors claim that a combination of these principles can be used as a way to do development differently.