LearnAdapt: a synthesis of our work on adaptive programming with DFID/FCDO (2017–2020) - Laws, Proud and Rocha Menocal (2021)


This briefing note summarises key messages from the United Kingdom’s LearnAdapt programme – a three-year collaboration between Better Delivery and Emerging Policy, Innovation, Capability Departments of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), ODI, Brink, Feedback Labs, and the Centre for Public Impact. The programme, which ran from April 2017 to November 2020, worked closely with FCDO (formerly the Department for International Development) to create systems and processes and nurture an environment that enabled adaptive programming for greater development effectiveness. 

The note highlights that development is not linear or straightforward, but rather complex, uncertain and context specific. It argues that this calls for international development actors to work differently, in ways that are based on deliberate experimentation, learning and adaptation, to inform decisions and drive effective development. It points out that adaptive programming has been used in a variety of areas and fields in both the public and private sectors and development practitioners have much to learn from and contribute to these different approaches and experiences. The note emphasises the importance of trust and relationship-building across all relevant stakeholders as being critical for adaptive management. The note argues that there is an urgent need to rethink how accountability requirements, results frameworks, value for money considerations, performance markers, procurement and contracting mechanisms and other processes are understood and applied so that they are better aligned with and can support adaptive management more effectively. It argues that senior managers leading adaptive programmes from the donor side should facilitate a culture and appropriate mindsets to encourage adaptive ways of working and create a space for experimentation and learning and promote accountability for learning rather than for delivering on predetermined targets. It also notes that adaptive management is resource intensive. So, managers need to be patient, open-minded, and adopt a more nuanced approach to risk.