Development experts tease out opportunities and challenges for integration research and practice

September 6, 2016
Roger-Mark DeSouza, Wilson Center, and Nanette Barkey, Pact, join panelists from DAI, USAID, and Social Impact to talk integration opportunities and challenges. Photo credit: Schuyler Null/Wilson Center

This post originally appeared on the Locus website and has been cross-posted with permission.

Although it comes with challenges, integration is essential to international development and holds vast potential for achieving more sustainable results, a panel of experts agreed during a wide-ranging discussion on integrated programming.

The Aug. 30 event, held in Washington D.C., was organized by the Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program and Locus, a coalition of international development organizations that seeks to change the way the sector funds and implements its work. Speakers included representatives from Pact, Social Impact, USAID and Development Alternatives Inc.

The discussion, entitled “Building a Case for Integrated Development: Identifying and Answering Key Research Questions,” focused on integrated development, a model that moves away from siloed programming and instead intentionally combines interventions in areas such as health, economic development, education, governance and the environment. Integrated development is thought to create synergies, with results that equal more than the sum of its parts.

The panelists agreed that integration is not just important but indispensable as governments, donors and implementers seek to improve their efforts. And while organizations still largely operate in silos, integrated programming is already in wide use, they observed.

But the panelists also said integration isn’t an end; rather, it’s a means for carrying out development that truly works, and there are different definitions of “works.” Does integrated development, for example, reach more beneficiaries? Does it help do more for those who are the most vulnerable? Do communities report greater satisfaction when programs are integrated? Do they report better quality of life?

“Do we still need to build a case” for integrated development? asked the panel’s moderator, Roger-Mark De Souza, director of population, environmental security and resilience at the Wilson Center.

Because so many questions remain unanswered, De Souza answered, “Yes, we do.”

Nanette Barkey, director of results and measurement at Pact and a member of Locus’s Research Working Group, discussed a new research agenda compiled by the coalition. After examining research by Locus member organizations and conducting surveys of development stakeholders and subject matter experts, the group identified four priority questions related to integrated development:

  • What criteria should determine when integration is the most appropriate approach?
  • What are the costs of integration versus vertical programming?
  • How is integration viewed by local communities and stakeholders?
  • Do the effects of integrated development tend to last longer than those of vertical programming?

The point of the agenda is not to outline questions Locus plans to answer on its own, Barkey said. Instead the coalition hopes others, including implementers, funders and academics will “take this research agenda and run with it.”

“We want to be collaborative,” Barkey said. “We want to be advocates for the research.”

She discussed a USAID-funded Pact project in Myanmar, Shae Thot, that is highly integrated and collecting data to help answer outstanding questions. “We’re intentionally generating information that can be part of this,” Barkey said.

She noted that although Shae Thot does not include an education component – it includes interventions in health, livelihoods and governance among others – Pact believes the program will increase school attendance as children become healthier and parents’ incomes rise.

Jayce Newton, integration lead at USAID’s Center for Democracy, Rights and Governance, or DRG, said data and on-the-ground experience are what led his agency to integration.

“We need more results for the money we’re spending,” Newton said. “For us, integration is vital to the health of all the work we do.”

He said DRG work is perhaps the most critical piece.

“DRG is not just something that is important to integrate,” Newton said. “We really think it’s the key ingredient to help other sectors integrate. We believe DRG is catalytic – something that can be the glue that allows, say, health and education to link together.”

Newton also took on another question that De Souza posed to the panel about the meaning of sustainability.

Newton gave this definition: “These gains that we make through our investments stay after we leave.”

He added that he believes integration and governance considerations are crucial to unlocking sustainability.

Newton said a key next step will be for organizations to better operationalize integration by making it easier for staff to collaborate across silos, share knowledge and combine different “flavors” of money.

He said silos are needed for organization, but they must become far more permeable.   

Jim Tarrant, chief of party for the BRIDGE project at Development Alternatives Inc., said development must be integrated because households are integrated, and because development challenges are, too. Environmental problems such as habitat and water loss, for example, directly affect people’s health and food security.

In an era of climate change and fragile states, Tarrant said, “the world can’t afford to have single-sector projects that do not achieve synergy and do not achieve multiple objectives. We don’t have the time for that anymore.”

Tarrant said that if integrated development costs more in time and money upfront, that must be weighed against the opportunity cost of not doing integration.

“You have to look at the alternatives,” he said. “Because those cost even more in terms of lost opportunities or actual failures.”

Still, he said, there is a risk in over-integrating, which leads to projects that are “a mile wide and an inch deep.”

Tarrant called on large implementing organizations that can afford it to build learning and research on integration into their programs, even when donors don’t fund it.

“It’s for their own benefit,” he said.

Salman Jaffer, program director at Social Impact, echoed Newton’s advice that organizations should make operational adjustments to better accommodate integration.

“We have to be mirrors of integration ourselves,” Jaffer said.

He said sectors should come together around the one desired outcome they all share: alleviating vulnerability. He said that outcome – along with quality of life – can serve as a great basis for measuring the impact of integrated programming.

Both quantitative and qualitative measures are important when it comes to integration, Jaffer said, and measurement should begin earlier in project lifespans to “take the pulse of integration along the way.”

In defining integration, Jaffer said, he sees intentionality and sustainability as critical pieces.

“I really believe that development itself is in its infancy,” he said. “We’re undoing some of the silos and the linear thinking – ‘it’s just my program and me’ – to thinking about ‘it’s us.’ It’s about a more complex world, and we need more complex solutions. We’re slowly becoming more diverse in our thinking.”


A video recording of the discussion is available here.