Listening, Learning and Adapting

Jamie Pett
Nov 19, 2020 · 3 min read

For our latest LearnAdapt workshop, over ninety development practitioners and researchers gathered to discuss how adaptive management and constituent engagement can be fruitfully linked. This event built on a new ODI working paper on the topic.

The paper highlights five elements, and in breakout discussions of each element the following takeaways emerged.


It takes long-term commitment to build the trust and relationships needed to have meaningful engagements. Teams can go beyond ticking the box and use co-creation and participatory small grant processes. For example, Root Change shared that, for Social Labs Malawi, challenges were identified by local leaders and experiments were carried out inexpensively with microgrants of $500. Feedback was used in frequent reflection sessions to enable constituents to reflect on their own experiments. Catholic Relief Services spoke about using local committees to discuss how to use feedback before it filters up.

It can help to think about a sustainability strategy from the start. For instance, build local partner capacity and plan to hand over the successful parts of a feedback system (e.g. to the government).

Giving voice is particularly important (and difficult) in contexts where political systems are more closed and when working with children and traumatised populations. In these contexts, constituents might not be accustomed to giving feedback. In these contexts, in particular, there are important questions around transparency and management expectations — for example, what to do if you receive requests that are beyond your control. One response is to give people the agency to find stakeholders who can help them. Another idea was to design engagement methods with constituents.

It’s not enough to bring staff onto teams that have helpful mindsets and skills; it’s necessary to keep on reinforcing these and keep them from reverting to how systems normally work. To bring engagement and adaption to scale, teams need to make it part of every day and every routine. Building staff skills with ongoing coaching and mentoring tends to work better than training.

Furthermore, we know that adaptive management has to be properly resourced. Decision-makers have to allocate staff, resources and time to look at feedback and make changes according to the lessons learnt.


We’re delighted to bring you videos of the plenary parts of the workshop.

Welcome, introduction and pitches

In the first video, after a few words of welcome, Stephanie Buell and Megan Campbell outline five elements that, when in place, help practitioners to combine constituent engagement and adaptive management. Practitioners then made a 60-second pitch to help attendees choose which breakout group they would like to join.

The groups comprised:

  1. Strong internal systems and external channels (Catholic Relief Services — Gregory Makabila and Clara Hagens)
  2. Skilled staff that value engagement and adaptation (UNDP Pacific Office — Nicola Glendining (video); Megan Campbell)
  3. Decision-maker champions (International Rescue Committee — Valentina Shafina)
  4. Clear points for reflection and action (Root Change — Myson Jambo, Emas Potolani and Alexis Banks)
  5. A meaningful role for constituents (Search for Common Ground — Anaïs Caput)
  6. Triangulating feedback and working with children (Chemonics — Alaa Zaza, Elizabeth Martin)
During the breakout sessions, some participants recorded notes on slides 7–12.
The text from the chat wave which immediately followed the break-out groups can be found on slides 14–17.
Group 2 featured a video from Nicola Glendining of UNDP Pacific Office
We invited a presenter from each breakout group to share some brief takeaways from their discussion.


For more information please do read the working paper “Linking Constituent Engagement and Adaptive Management: Lessons from Practitioners” and a summary blog post.


The world is changing. Learn. Adapt. Thrive.