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Empowerment and Accountability in Messy Places. Need your advice on Nigeria, Pakistan, Myanmar and Mozambique.

June 7, 2017
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My post-book research plans are shaping up, so it’s time to ask for your advice. As well as the work I blogged about recently on Public



Authority in fragile/conflict-affected settings, I’m doing some research with Oxfam and Itad on how ‘adaptive management’ plays out in those same settings. Here’s the blurb:

‘There is much hype and attention given to new models of development programming that are iterative, adaptive and politically grounded and whether they show greater promise than more traditional development approaches. Among the myriad of possible models, the current empowerment and accountability  programming paradigm suggests that external actors should think and work in a politically smart way, work with the grain, make small bets, adopt problem driven locally led approaches and as a result do development differently. These approaches or principles offer new or repackaged signposts to programming success, including developing a stronger understanding of how political, economic and social contexts play out in situations of complexity and fragility and a commitment to learning by doing.

Evidence of adaptive programming is however thin on the ground – in relation to how such approaches have been put into practice, what has worked and not worked, the underlying factors that enable their effective implementation, how they contribute to success and the added value they provide. The current literature is relatively sparse and appears overly removed from the reality that practitioners face and is couched in a ‘donor-centric’ language that frontline workers, who ultimately must translate concepts into delivery, struggle to understand.’



This is part of a much bigger research programme called ‘Action for Empowerment and Accountability’, exploring the nature of social and political action in fragile, conflict, and violent settings (FCVS). I’ll be looking at how the new aid approaches (adaptive management etc) that I’ve written about so much on the blog play out in these settings, and what differences (if any), they imply for ‘frontline workers’, whether in aid donors, or their partner organizations.

Angela Christie of Itad and I are looking for suitable case studies in Nigeria, Mozambique, Pakistan and Myanmar. We’ve got some initial candidates, but thought it would be worth canvassing FP2P readers for suggestions, especially on which programmes might be worth taking a look at.

Although not set in stone, the selection criteria for the case studies are:

  • Within one of the four countries
  • Focussed on Empowerment and Accountability
  • Must take place in FCVS (including pockets of fragility/conflict within otherwise stable countries)
  • Must meet the characteristics of adaptive management, within their official aims or (prominently) in their practice
  • Must be live, and at least two years into implementation
  • Must include commitment to explicit and ongoing political economy analysis
  • Can include both single donor and multi donor programmes

And just in case you were wondering what this ‘adaptive management’ malarkey involves, here’s Angela’s admirably succinct description:

  1. Decentralised decision making (decision-making authority as close to the frontline staff and partners as possible)Accountability - not
  2. Experimentation (since uncertainties require ‘small bets’)
  3. Consideration of context as well as intervention within monitoring processes (since context is likely to be complex and volatile in FCVS)
  4. Effective integration of MEL into management systems (MEL systems are decision orientated)
  5. Fast feedback/learning loops (the more unstable a system, the faster feedback is required)
  6. Flexibility in design and implementation (adaptation not just based on learning by doing but on reflections on assumptions relating to both causal pathways and context)

Over to you – what programmes would you recommend and why?  If you’d rather use email than leave comments, write to me at dgreen[at]


  1. This sounds fun!

    If it was me, I’d take a slightly different approach.

    Rather than

    (i) Exploring the effects of an adaptive management programme,

    Have you considered

    (ii) Looking for cases of growing empowerment and accountability, and then working backwards, studying how that happened, and the role played by adaptive management. I used this method recently myself, and it helped me to contextualise the relative importance of aid, and understand the wider influences enabling reform.

    [Lant Pritchett has a nice blog on this here, pushing against programme evaluations:

    I appreciate that doesn’t answer your question. Sorry!

    1. Thanks Alice, reminds me of Jonathan Fox’s work on accountability in Mexican municipalities. I agree, this is a better, more rigorous approach. But we also require a lot more time and $. When IDS did something similar on the impact of the global financial crisis, and where people turned to for help, turned out that aid and NGOs were very secondary, compared to families, communities and states.

  2. From Myanmar … what would you be asking of the local actors (commitments of time, access, engagement etc). What might we say they could expect in return? best, Matt

  3. Hi Duncan,
    World Vision has some inspiring examples in Myanmar, where communities are managing their own development in an adaptive way, and are connecting to local authorities in a politically smart way that holds them to account and improves the quality of the services they provide. We are also working on a short paper that shows how the community development work we support is empowering, adaptive and politically smart in a DDD way, with examples from many different contexts. All very exciting!

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