Integrated development must be intentional, backed by evidence and sustainably funded, Locus experts say

June 24, 2015
Panelists discuss integrated development at a Locus event June 23.

It is up to development organizations to steer the sector and its funders toward an integrated approach, and the effort must be backed by evidence, panelists agreed during a first-of-its-kind international development discussion organized by a new coalition known as Locus: The Point of International Development.

The June 23 event, held in Washington, D.C., included speakers from Pact, FHI 360 and Aga Khan Foundation. All three are members of Locus, which seeks to change the way the sector funds and implements its work. 

The discussion, entitled “Integrated Solutions for Meaningful Change,” focused on integrated development, a model that moves away from siloed programs and instead combines interventions in areas such as health, education, livelihoods, the environment and governance. Proponents believe that when efforts complement each other – when programs improve people’s lives on multiple fronts at the same time in a given community – the result equals more than the sum of the parts.

The development community has made significant progress since the adoption of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, said moderator Adeeb Mahmud, of FSG, a consulting firm that works with international development organizations. Millions of deaths have been averted, and millions of people are no longer living in extreme poverty.

But persistent development challenges remain, Mahmud said, noting that most programs are siloed, foreign aid is largely unsustainable and little has been done to develop shared approaches to measuring impact.

Even as more development organizations integrate their programs, Mahmud said, few have developed a definition of integrated development, let alone best practices. Most discussions about the topic are taking place within organizations, rather than among them. And support for integrated development is based largely on anecdote and intuition, rather than on data.

These are among the challenges that Locus is working to overcome, Mahmud said.

FHI 360 spent more than a year developing a working definition of integrated development, said panelist Tricia Petruney, a technical advisor with the organization.

“FHI 360 defines integrated development as an intentional approach that links the design, delivery and evaluation of programs across disciplines and sectors to produce an amplified, lasting impact on people’s lives,” Petruney said.

She said integrated development does not include programs that happen to achieve results outside their lone sector – for example, an anti-malaria program that happens to keep more children in school because they are healthier.

“We’re talking about things that we’ve intentionally put together” in designing a program, she said.

To sustainably fund long-term, integrated development programs, funding models must change, panelists said. To inspire such change and to gain a comprehensive understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of integrated development, they said, the approach must be studied – and information must be shared among organizations.

“We’re exploring integrated development as a hypothesis,” Petruney said. “Does one plus one actually equal three?”

A key question, Mahmud said, is whether integrated development comes with any opportunity costs.

Liz Grant, Aga Khan Foundation’s program manager for their multi-input area development project in Afghanistan, said AKF has an extensive history of taking a long-term, integrated approach to its work, always based on local priorities. The approach works across multiple sectors, such as heath, education, rural development and civil society, while establishing permanent institutions such as hospitals, universities and banks.

The fact that funding cycles often run on shorter timelines has been a significant challenge, Grant said. AKF is exploring new funding models as a result and supports Locus’ goal of broader change based on evidence.

Petruney added that demand from local partners is driving the expansion of integrated programming, and international development organizations have an obligation to be a voice for those partners with funders.

Because integrated development is already taking place, many organizations are positioned to contribute to the sector’s understanding of the approach, said Marc Cassidy, Pact’s governance director.

“I think we’re riding a wave of something that’s already happening,” Cassidy said.

He noted that 84 percent of Pact’s projects are integrated – meaning they combine interventions in two or more impact areas. Roughly 23 percent combine four or more.

Pact has long been integrating its governance work into other programs, Cassidy said, partly because funding for governance programs is hard to come by and partly because of Pact’s belief that inclusive, responsive governance is vital to sustaining progress in other areas, from health to economic development.

To make the most of any development program, Cassidy said, you must understand your supporters and detractors and incentivize participation among relevant government officials.

“Development is not just a technical process,” he said. “It’s really a political process.”

All of the panelists agreed that leading change rather than waiting on national aid agencies and other funders is imperative.

This, they said, is the time for development organizations to share knowledge and ideas, to examine program outcomes and research methodologies to build an evidence base, and to identify and answer key questions about the future of development.


Full audio of the discussion is here.

About Locus: Locus is an initiative of nongovernmental organizations, foundations and consulting firms dedicated to finding new solutions to development challenges, focusing on integrated approaches to development and a search for evidence-based, local solutions. To date, its members include Pact, IRC, FHI360, SNV USA, Africa Capacity Alliance and the Aga Khan Foundation USA. Locus is establishing a research agenda for integrated approaches that helps eliminate funding siloes, identify shared approaches to measurement and opportunities for scaling-up, provide evidence-based recommendations to share with influencers and policy makers worldwide and drive adoption of locally-owned, integrated solutions. Through shared research, pilot projects, global forums, publications, academic courses and a virtual knowledge hub, Locus aims to change the way the international development community approaches funding and implementation.

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