Bringing adaptive management to life: Insights from practice

Bringing adaptive management to life: Insights from practice

Programmes that deal with complex, multi-faceted problems such as adapting to climate change must be flexible enough to adapt to changing realities. A new paper released by the Action on Climate Today (ACT) programme, provides insights into an ‘adaptive management’ approach which can help such programmes stay on track when circumstances change. 

The paper, “Bringing adaptive management to life: Insights from practice”, provides an overview of what constitutes ‘adaptive management’ and why it is important. It also reflects on some of the major lessons learned on the challenges and opportunities of using an adaptive programme management approach to support governments to adapt to climate change. 

Aimed at development and climate change practitioners, but with useful insights for anyone who manages complex programmes, the paper provides a framework for an adaptive programme, including the essential core principles and required resources. 

The paper draws on ACT’s experience supporting national and sub-national governments in five South Asian countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan.  

Multi-year programmes that support efforts to build resilience to climate change must be flexible enough to deal with changing conditions. Changing political realities, social conditions, limited climate information and data, and other factors can sometimes require fundamental shifts in programme approaches mid-way through delivery. To cope with this, some programmes use an adaptive management approach.  

The Action on Climate Today (ACT) programme, a multi-year, UK-government funded programme that builds climate resilience in five South Asian countries, adopted an adaptive management approach from its conception. Now at its end, the ACT programme has released a new learning paper that shares the lessons and insights about some of the challenges of applying adaptive programme management principles, and how to overcome these. 

The paper, “Bringing adaptive management to life: Insights from practice, explains how adaptive programmes can provide the flexibility, that allows those delivering technical assistance to support governments to experiment with different entry-points for adaptation, and learn and adapt from successes and failures. It also sets out a framework for an adaptive programme, including a set of essential core principles:  

  1. An evolving Theory of Change;  
  2. Locally-led and politically savvy delivery approach;  
  3. Experimentation and learning; and  
  4. Stakeholder alignment.  

It also includes two sets of essential resources required for adaptive management approaches to be successful: management flexibility and the availability of adequate finances. The paper draws on ACT’s extensive experience to provide illustrative examples of the challenges ACT faced in operationalizing this framework and how the programme overcame them. 

ACT is a £23 million UK government-funded regional programme managed by Oxford Policy Management (OPM) in collaboration with many consortium partners. It has been working since 2014 in partnership with national and sub-national governments of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan to assist the integration of climate adaptation into development policies and actions while transforming systems of planning and delivery, including leveraging additional finance. 

Action on Climate Today (ACT) is an initiative funded with UK aid from the UK government and managed by Oxford Policy Management (OPM). 

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Cover photo by Kyran Low on Unsplash.

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