Alan’s Open and Adaptive Adventures (February 2022)

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I took a break from sharing my top reads last month, which means that I’ve got more to choose from. Lots of interesting and useful things have come across my radar, with my radar set to identify things that come close to the core issue – leveraging collaborative and adaptive learning to shift power and shape systems – that Global Integrity is exploring (see our strategy 2-pager for more). 

Alan’s Top Reads

  • Draft policy on Local Capacity Development Policy (August 2021) USAID It may not have created much of a buzz in the twitter-verse, but this policy from USAID is an important element in the agency’s revitalized emphasis on locally-led, but not locally-isolated, development. The draft policy reflects an emerging consensus that local actors need to be center-stage in efforts to diagnose and address development challenges. Put simply, as the causes and consequences of  development challenges always have important local dimensions, the best way that external actors can help is to support frontline actors to take the lead. There’s lots to like in what is a bold, ambitious and thoughtful policy, as well as some areas where we felt that further exploration is needed, including as regards power and complexity. Our review of the policy can be found here.
  • Katherine Milligan, Juanita Zerda and John Kania (January 2022) The Relational Work of Systems Change, Stanford Social Innovation Review – I’ve become familiar with the work of the Collective Change Lab through my conversations with Cynthia Rayner (see my top reads from November 2021). So, I was excited to see this piece which emphasizes – along the same lines as our strategy – that systems are fundamentally about relationships and processes, and as such, efforts to contribute to systems change need to start with relationships. As Katherine, Juanita and John put it: “Sometimes we lose sight of a simple truth about systems: They are made up of people. …If most collective impact efforts fall short of supporting people to change in fundamentally consciousness-altering ways, then, the system they are a part of will not significantly change either”. If that piques your interest, check out this podcast with Juanita Zerda and John Kania at the Collective Impact Forum.
  • In what may seem like quite a jump from “consciousness-altering ways”, my third recommendation is the Interim Evaluation of the Building Public Finance Capabilities Programme (June 2020), run by the Collaborative Africa Budget Reform Initiative (CABRI). The evaluation, commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and led by Fiscus Public Finance Consultants, was completed in 2020. The Gates Foundation shared a copy with us in 2021 as we were designing a somewhat similar initiative to pilot a participatory and iterative approach to supporting health systems strengthening in Africa. The thorough, balanced and insightful evaluation has much food for thought for those of us who are exploring the value and limits of supporting adaptive approaches to addressing complex challenges in ways that also serve to strengthen the capacity of local actors to address similar challenges in future. I found it refreshing to see such clear analysis of the effectiveness of an adaptive program. Which brings me to …
  • Graham Teskey’s January 2022 piece on Thinking and Working Politically: What have we learned since 2013? In this piece, Graham provides a useful review of how things have gone for efforts to make Thinking and Working Politically (TWP) the norm. As he notes, there have been many challenges and some disappointments. Two stood out for me. First, that there has been little progress with localising the practice of TWP. This rings true to me, although I would encourage readers to review Arbie Baguios’s piece on “Localising the sector or supporting local solutions?” as they consider what variety of localisation might be most useful. Second, that there is a continuing need for examples and evidence of when TWP approaches have been applied, what such approaches have achieved, and what factors contribute to their effectiveness. With evidence about effectiveness an essential ingredient for adaptive learning that improves performance, this call for greater attention to effectiveness is one that I strongly support. Duncan Green’s somewhat gloomy review is here. My slightly cheerier notes are here.

Oh, and finally … I love this piece by MacKenzie Scott – “Philanthropy: No dollar signs this time” and the reflection that “Each unique expression of generosity will have value far beyond what we can imagine or live to see.” The relational work of systems change, again.

If you have any feedback on my missives, and how I might make them more useful and interesting, just drop me a line. My other monthly missives can be found here, with the rolling list of my favorite reads in chronological order available here. If you’d like access to my full Evernote Notebook, drop me a line! I’ve grouped all articles within broader themes and categories such as:

  • Systems
  • Philanthropy
  • Open Data
  • Learning
  • Fiscal Governance
  • AdaptDev
  • Corruption
Alan Hudson
Executive Director

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