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One-size-DOESN'T-fit-all. Global development needs local knowledge

Palladium hosts a day-long workshop in Washington, DC to explore politically smart and adaptive approaches to development

On November 16, 2017 Palladium organised a day-long workshop - Supporting Politically Smart and Adaptive USAID Programming - at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, DC.

A smarter approach
There is strong agreement within the international community that tackling complex development problems requires flexibility and being politically aware. Increasingly, development practitioners are moving beyond technical fixes and the adoption of so-called global ’best-practice’, toward implementing iterative, locally-driven and contextually-aware programs.

Reforming a health care system, improving municipal services, or strengthening an agricultural value chain are inherently complex undertakings. Making progress requires an understanding of all stakeholder interests, and a program framework that enables real-time adaptation in response to unexpected challenges and opportunities.

Coalition for better development
On November 16, 2017 Palladium organised a day-long workshop – Supporting Politically Smart and Adaptive USAID Programming – at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, DC to address this critically important issue. Co-sponsored with DAI, the event included more than 70 development practitioners from non-profit organisations, consulting firms, and donor agencies. USAID staff from across the agency also attended the event.

“Making a shift from conventional program design and implementation to more adaptive and politically aware ones is no minor endeavor,” stated Benjamin Feit, Palladium’s Director of Governance and host of the event. “It means rethinking how a development program is designed and evaluated, as well as taking a different approach to implementation – from staff composition and skills, to management and analytical tools, to relationships with local counterparts and donors.”

Palladium has conducted more than 30 political economy analyses (PEAs) globally and are currently delivering numerous programs that intentionally take an adaptive approach. As a founder and active member of the Thinking and Working Politically and Doing Development Differently communities of practice, Palladium is committed to sharing information. This workshop prioritised the exchange of practical experience to advance the field; experience which included flexible design approaches, applying a political lens to implementation, and how best to facilitate program learning and adaptation.

USAID representatives and implementing partners served as speakers for moderated panel discussions. Julie Lostumbo, project manager for USAID’s Local Enterprise and Value Chain Enhancement project in Haiti, talked about the importance of identifying champions and incentives to drive change. She also emphasised the value of taking ‘small bets’ – that is, investing in small scale project activities that provide insight to inform real-time decisions to modify, drop, expand or add activities. Adiya Ode, Palladium’s Team Leader for its flagship governance project in Nigeria, described specific management tools her team uses to promote locally-driven reform. “While we often use PEAs to make management decisions, our participatory PEA process recognises that local stakeholders bring unique knowledge and skills to the table, and this in itself begins to facilitate positive change,” she remarked.

What next?
Quite simply, politically smart and adaptive programming has the potential to enhance the way we do development, right across different sectors. Under the auspices of the Society for International Development, Washington we are leading a working group to make sure the momentum is maintained. Keep following our website for more information about a follow-on event in February 2018 that will examine more case studies that highlight lessons, challenges, tools and approaches from thinking and working politically.