“Development is a complex task.”

“…programs must experiment, learn and adapt.”

These two short statements are from “Navigating complexity: Adaptive management at the Northern Karamoja growth, health, and governance program” report published by Mercy Corps and based on Uganda’s Northern Karamoja Growth, Health, and Governance Program (GHG).  This short and insightful report shares their systems-change way of thinking that led to positive systemic change in Northern Karamoja.

Three key lessons for building a culture of learning and adaptation are identified (see also MCA’s blog post on the SCARF principles titled “The Art of Collaboration”):

1. Office culture is fundamental – build a learning culture

Convincingly adaptive management necessitates (i) vigilant monitoring to ensure real-time insight subsequently justifying necessary strategy shifts; (ii) a culture of curiosity and engagement; and (iii) emergent practice and camaraderie (fostering a culture of peer review, respectful dissent, creative tension and trust) through all levels of hierarchy – long gone are the days of command-and-control managers.

2. The importance of consistent messaging from management – management plays a key role in insulating and sheltering staff from conflicting goals and messages (regular and clear signals create trust and desired behaviour)

(i) Messaging on mission – Adaptation and creativity can only emerge if there is a specific goal, a well-understood mission, around which staff can adapt activities;

(ii) Messaging on flexibility – Encouraging staff to try new things, learn lessons from failures, inspire new ideas and questions together with conversation/sharing with peers and management;

(iii) Messaging on respectful dissent and creative tension – Demand constructive dissent and debate; and

(iv) Messaging needs to be accompanied by management role modelling great behaviour (‘walking the talk”) such as (a) admitting to failure; and (b) critical thinking and engagement (reading, questioning and revising).

3. Tools and progresses support learning behaviour, they do not create it – staff act/adapt according to roles assigned to them not because processes force them to. These tools and processes seen in Figure 1 support adaptation at every level of programming –  conceptual to tactical – and encourages reflection, evaluation and learning.

See full article here.