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Adaptive Management

1 August 2022

Kantar Public's Evaluation Team has been approached by organisations requesting evaluations that incorporate adaptive management methods (also called adaptive learning).

Many program managers will be familiar with the nervous feeling that comes from having to implement a program under conditions of uncertainty. So how do you maximize opportunities to learn incrementally, during implementation, to mitigate risks and maximise outcomes?

In recent months, the Kantar Public Evaluation Team has been approached by organisations requesting evaluations that incorporate adaptive management methods (also called adaptive learning). If your organisation is interested in improving the performance of a program while it is being implemented, adaptive management might be the right approach for you.

What is adaptive management?

Adaptive management is an intentional approach to making adjustments to a program in response to new information and changes in context. Adaptive management focuses on building in opportunities for structured reflection, ongoing and real-time learning, course correction and decision-making to improve program effectiveness. It is not about changing goals during implementation; rather, it is about changing the path being used to achieve the goals in response to changes in context. It is an iterative process in which practitioners test hypotheses and adjust behaviour, decisions, and actions based on experience and actual changes.

How is adaptive management used?

Adaptive management is often used in the evaluation of new programs, especially in the early stages of implementation. The approach enables a feedback loop where data are collected and analysed to assess how implementation is supporting the intended outcomes and whether small changes in program delivery may improve outcomes. If changes are required, they can be made sooner (for example, after 6 months of program implementation) rather than waiting 1-2 years to conduct an interim or final evaluation. Using adaptive management methods in programs and services can optimise use of resources, reduce risk and lead to better outcomes.

Adaptive management in evaluation

There are many different approaches and tools that can support learning and adaptation. At a high level, adaptative management can be integrated into an evaluation as follows:

  1. Firstly, articulate where there is uncertainty in the program’s Theory of Change, either because of a rapidly changing context; because additional data analysis is required; or due to a complex environment where multiple variables could potentially impact outcomes.
  2. Next, establish a monitoring framework that collects data on the underlying assumptions and risks in the Theory of Change during the program’s implementation.
  3. Finally, co-design an adaptive management plan. This should include a timeline for periodic reviews where relevant stakeholders are brought together, and a facilitator helps the group review the monitoring data and make course corrections as necessary. It’s often useful to conduct a pre-mortem before any program adjustments are implemented, to reflect on what could go wrong and how mitigation strategies can be incorporated into program decisions.

This article was issued under our former global brand name: Kantar Public.  

Kizzy Gandy
National Director,
Program Evaluation

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