Cécile Le Grix

Theory, definitions

The Agile Manifesto, Agile Alliance, 2001.

The Agile Manifesto was drafted by the Agile Alliance in 2001 on the basis of 12 principles where individuals and interactions are valued over processes and tools, working software is valued over exhaustive documentation, customer collaboration is valued over contract negotiation and responding to change is valued over following a plan.

Building a global learning alliance on adaptive management, L. Wild, B. Ramalingam, ODI, September 2018.

With the increasingly complex challenges faced by humanitarian and development organisations, DFID and USAID recently got together to create the Global Learning for Adaptive Management (GLAM) initiative. This global network aims to promote and support ‘adaptive rigour’ by identifying which tools, skills, practices, relationships and incentives best harness the potential of monitoring, evaluation and learning. The paper presents the GLAM initiative and its projects for the next four years.

Adaptive management: What it means for CSOs, M. O’Donnell, BOND, 2016.

Adaptive management is characterised by a flexible approach involving testing, monitoring, getting feedback and making course-corrections if necessary. It is an alternative to more linear and mechanistic approaches. This introductory paper is intended for managers and leaders in civil society organisations and funders, who are not already immersed in the issue. It provides insight into what adaptive management is, when and why it may be appropriate, and what may be required for organisations to adopt adaptive approaches.

Making humanitarian response more flexible: challenges and questions, A. Obrecht, S. Bourne, ALNAP Background Paper, ALNAP, ODI, 2018.

As humanitarian actors have been responding to highly dynamic, unstable environments for decades, they should be well-placed to adapt continuously to changes on the ground. So, why is this so difficult? To answer this question, this paper sets out the situations which lead humanitarian organisations to try to change what, where and how they operate, and explores the challenges they face in making these changes happen. The authors introduce work carried out primarily outside the humanitarian sector on flexibility and adaptive capabilities, to provide some initial thinking on how humanitarian agencies can improve their ability to respond to dynamics and uncertainty. They conclude with a brief summary of the state of evidence on adaptive approaches.

Managing to Adapt: Analysing adaptive management for planning, monitoring, evaluation, and learning, H. Desai & al., Oxfam Research Reports, The London School of Economics and Political Science, Oxfam International, March 2018.

This report was developed by a group of students from the London School of Economics as part of their Master’s degree programme, in partnership with Oxfam Great Britain. It presents a collection of case studies from Oxfam and other agencies to illustrate concrete examples of how programmes can incorporate adaptive practices at different stages of the planning cycle. It also offers practical suggestions to development actors to support adaptive practices. It argues that PMEL for adaptive management entails flexible funding mechanisms; iterative design processes; developing locally owned approaches; and creating an enabling environment for learning.

Transforming change: How change really happens and what we can do about it, Knox-Clarke, P., ALNAP Study, ODI, ALNAP, 2017.

This study is based on the idea that despite the time, money and energy spent on initiatives to change the humanitarian sector, very little attention has been paid to the processes that drive change in the humanitarian system. The author analyses how change can be achieved effectively and presents the ideas and views about change that were expressed during the discussions and presentations at the 2017 ALNAP annual meeting.

Doing Iterative and Adaptive Work, M. Andrews, L. Pritchett, M. Woolcock, CID Working Paper n°313, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University, 2016.

This report presents an agile approach developed by the authors, called Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA), and addresses a key part of the approach once a problem has been identified, based on real-time experimental iterations. This is intended as a practical paper that builds on experience and embeds exercises for readers who are actually involved in this kind of work.

From political economy analysis to doing development differently: a learning experience, Booth, D., Harris, D. and Wild, L., ODI, 2016.

Under what conditions does an understanding of political economy strengthen aid-supported development efforts? This paper sheds light on this question by reflecting on the experience and engagements of a small team of policy researchers in the Politics and Governance Programme (PoGo) of the Overseas Development Institute (ODI). Since around 2009, the work of this group has been largely focused on supporting the movement towards politically smarter development assistance. Three particular areas of work are considered in the paper: problem-focused political economy studies; training in applied political economy analysis (PEA) for development agency staff; and direct engagement with donor operations. The paper suggests placing more emphasis on the weaknesses of PEA as an entry point for transforming development work and the feasibility of approaching the same challenges from a different angle – starting with ways of working.

Putting learning at the centre: Adaptive development programming in practice, C. Valters, C. Cummings, H. Nixon, ODI, 2016.

Calls for adaptive programming mean we need to focus on how information and knowledge can help to make changes to programmes. This paper begins by clarifying why and what kind of learning matters for adaptive programming. The paper then turns its focus to how strategies and approaches applied throughout a programme’s conception, design, management and M&E can enable it to continually learn and adapt. The authors draw lessons related to practices.

Managing Complexity: Adaptive management at Mercy Corps, Mercy Corps, 2015.

In order for humanitarian and development actors to adapt in complex environments there is a need for constant learning, measuring, innovating, and iterating. This document articulates why adaptive management is important, unpacks what it is, and elaborates the four elements that underpin it: culture, people and skills, tools and systems, and enabling environment.


Case studies

Learning to make a difference: Christian Aid Ireland’s adaptive programme management in governance, gender, peace building and human rights, David Booth & al., Christian Aid Ireland, ODI, Irish Aid, September 2018.

This paper is the product of a multi-year collaboration between ODI and the core team of Christian Aid Ireland to assess the relevance of adaptive or trial-and-error approaches to the field of governance, peace building and human rights. Christian Aid Ireland’s current five-year programme is being implemented in seven countries affected by conflict, violence or political instability – Angola, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe. It is based on partnerships with local organisations, especially non-governmental and civil society organisations working with marginalised women and men, and other gender identities. It aims to make a difference to people’s lives by helping them realise their human rights, improve their security and address gender inequalities. The paper explains how the change to adaptive programme management is made, describes the lessons learned from the first year of experience and attempts to draw lessons by examining the possible implications for implementation in the years ahead. The authors observe that, in order to make the most of the transition to adaptive management, new working methods and their underlying principles will need to be more embedded in the organisations’ practices and cultures.

Dynamic gridlock: Adaptive Humanitarian Action in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Alice Obrecht, ALNAP Case Study, ALNAP, ODI, 2018.

DRC, which has been in a perpetual state of sporadic conflict for the last twenty years, is an excellent example of why flexibility and the ability to adapt are so important for the future of humanitarian action, and also of why these two qualities are so difficult to obtain. Indeed, humanitarians are working in an environment that is continually changing, as many small-to-mid-level, complicated crises arise in different parts of this vast country on a weekly basis. This country study looks at examples of flexible humanitarian programming in an extended crisis context while analysing barriers to flexibility and the main issues which lead to a need for change.

Systems change in practice: Learning from the Start Network’s drought financing facility, Humanitarian Innovation Fund, 2018.

The Start Network’s Drought Financing Facility project sought to revolutionise the way the humanitarian system responds to major droughts. This interview with Emily Montier, who leads the DFF project, looks at the challenges they have faced in trying to change the humanitarian system, and what they have learned in the process.

Crisis modifiers: A solution for a more flexible development-humanitarian system?, Katie Peters, Florence Pichon, BRACED, ODI, November 2017.

A humanitarian fund Providing Humanitarian Assistance for Sahel Emergencies (PHASE) has been embedded into to the multi-year Building Resilience to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED) programme. This paper showcases evidence from the use of the PHASE crisis modifier and situates crisis modifiers as a potential ‘solution’ for a more flexible aid system – if they are accompanied by a fundamental shift in the way development actors design their programmes and respond to predictable risks.

Adapting Aid Lessons from six case studies, Mercy Corps, IRC, 2016.

In 2015 the IRC and Mercy Corps joined forces to launch ADAPT (Analysis Driven Agile Programming Techniques) to research, innovate and field test adaptive management techniques for the sector. Three questions dominate the adaptive management discourse: What does it look like in practice? What impact can it have? And how can it best be nurtured? ADAPT tackled these questions through case studies (Uganda, Syria, Niger, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Myanmar). The ADAPT report summarises the results of the case studies, brings learning together, and shares reflections on how adaptive management can advance the effectiveness and impact of aid. The ADAPT partnership’s aim now is to institutionalise adaptive management within IRC and the Mercy Corps and influence the sector more through the findings of this work.

To read the different case studies:

Development in a volatile environment: Adaptive management for resilient communities, Sugden, J., Resilience in Practice Briefing 3, Practical Action UK, 2016.

Short-term projects and linear management approaches are often unsuitable for achieving resilient development in the face of volatile complexity. Adaptive management combined with longer-term project funding has the potential to deliver more appropriate development outcomes. This will require development practitioners to engage with complexity in a participatory and transparent way, through regular participatory context analysis, modifiable theories of change, and evidenced periods of review. Organisations must overcome their fear of failure and support project managers to ‘fail forwards’. Non-government organisations should develop and pilot accountability frameworks that support learning and adaptation. They must prove to donors the value of monitoring for learning and adaptation to better achieve resilient development goals.

Prospects Practice Paper N° 1: Adaptive Management in Practice. A case study on the Prospects program, Chris Maclay, Mercy Corps, 2016.

Mercy Corps is increasingly seeking to understand how best to manage programmes which iterate, adapt and respond to the consistently evolving settings in which they work. This brief Practice Paper provides some examples of what adaptive management looks like in practice on the Prospects youth employment programme in Liberia. It provides some practical examples and insights into how a programme governed by principles of adaptive management operates. Even though this programme is not a perfect example of adaptive management, its successes and challenges provide lessons for other programmes.



Making humanitarian response more flexible: Bibliography, Alice Obrecht, ALNAP Background Paper, ALNAP, ODI, 2018.


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