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Adapting to adaptive programming

I find that my natural scepticism is occasionally interpreted as me being cynical. And a cynic might ask what the difference is. Nevertheless, I think it’s important to query and challenge ideas and not just take them at face value. A sceptic is prepared to change their view about something in response to new evidence or experience. A cynic is not.


It is with this in mind that I write this blog on Itad’s spotlight on adaptive programming. At some point in the past, I was highly sceptical about adaptive programming, of problem-driven iterative adaptation (PDIA), or whatever flavour of working adaptively you enjoy.

Having been closely involved with some ground-breaking adaptive programmes, I now understand the benefits this way of working provides. Nevertheless, the jury on working adaptively is still out, and there are many examples of where it is not being implemented properly.


Over the last decade, Itad has been at the forefront of new thinking and innovative practice on MEL for adaptive programming; having been part of teams successfully delivering adaptive programmes for DFID (e.g. SAVI, ARC and ECP). Mirroring recent trends in international development, there has been a rising interest among colleagues to better understand what it means to work adaptively – and how to address the particular challenges inherent in monitoring and evaluating an adaptive programme. Across the company, there are excellent examples of where we have successfully addressed these challenges, and a growing sense that we should be making more systematic use of this knowledge – both internally and externally.

It was from this recognition that we decided to start an adaptive programming ‘spotlight’ to bring together Itad’s collective experience in this area. We wanted to understand our track record and expertise as a whole, share lessons, highlight trends and strengthen what we can offer our partners as they seek to programme adaptively and ultimately improve lives.

An important element of the spotlight has been the establishment of an internal adaptive programming COP (Community of Practice), where colleagues from across Itad come together to develop a stronger evidence base on what works best in adaptive programming. Particular areas of focus have been:

  • What methods are required to evaluate adaptive programmes?
  • What should you consider in the process?
  • What methodological gaps exist?

Following these discussions, we’ve been working on a new publication (which we’re calling a ‘Think Piece’) to capture our thinking on how to address the challenges of evaluating adaptive programmes. As well as identifying what we think are the distinctive features of adaptive programmes, we think through the implications they have for evaluation, the methods and tools we think lend themselves to evaluating adaptive programmes (and where they, in turn, might need to be adapted!) and the gaps we’ve found. The Think Piece will be published soon, so watch this space!

In the meantime, our COP is moving on to our next area of focus – ‘how do I help my (non-adaptive) clients become more adaptive?’ – we’ll update you, once we’ve had the chance to think this one through!


Milan Kundera wrote that “scepticism does not abolish the world, it turns it into questions.” I believe that is what we are doing with our spotlight campaign on adaptive programming, and fundamentally what we do as evaluators. We want to ask better questions when evaluating adaptive programmes – and the answers we generate from these evaluations will help practitioners become better at working adaptively.