Adapting democracy, rights and governance programs during global democratic decline

September 14, 2022

For several years, international Democracy, Human Rights and Governance (DRG) programs have been operating during a time of global democratic decline. This has created a need for community-led, flexible approaches for tracking context and performance data for evidence-based learning and adaptation. One way DRG programs can thrive in these challenging operating contexts is establishing robust Adaptive Management (AM)-focused MEL systems.  

To address a need for practical tools to implement a Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning system rooted in nimble Adaptive Management (AM), Pact developed an Adaptive Management Guidebook with eight customizable tools to operationalize an AM system. After a few years of Pact projects using this guidebook to establish their AM systems, we have identified some best practices that need further emphasis:  

  • Leadership must promote a culture of learning: Allow space for learning from success and failure and make learning part of everyone’s daily jobs.   

  • Place “communities” at center: Acknowledge the true knowledge holders are the “communities” (project stakeholders) we are in partnership with, while also trying to mitigate the inherent power dynamics; make their inputs central to decision-making.  

This summer, four months after the full-scale Russian invasion began in Ukraine, Pact trained our Ukraine partners on how to implement an AM system in an environment few envisioned would materialize for our programming. In developing this training, we acknowledged a gap in the guidebook on operating an AM system in a war zone. 

We consulted MEL colleagues at Care--who have more experience than Pact working in active conflict zones—and their Care’s Approach to Adaptive Management publication. We also learned of challenges facing our Ukraine partners, and the creative approaches they are taking to collect and analyze context and performance data for their project adaptations. Based on these consultations and real lived experiences of Ukrainian partners, we make the following suggestions for consideration when establishing a MEL system in a war zone:    

  • Data vs intuition: While it may be tempting to operate on intuition in a volatile environment, decision-making will be improved if you are intentional about what data is needed for immediate decisions—you will avoid repeating mistakes and be able to act quickly and with purpose.  

  • Context indicators and scenario planning are key: Expect faster change. Windows of opportunity are short—use existing systems/networks. Be proactive with donors.

  • Planning: It is necessary to balance short-term planning in a war zone with an eye toward long-term planning of the post-war period, despite the uncertainty of how that may look and when that may be.  

  • Do no harm: Consider human life/risks associated with each pivot, and those who will be put at risk should be the ones making those decisions. 

  • Embed MEL thinking in all: MEL and program people should operate as one.