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Compasses when there are no maps: The growing importance of adaptive management to the development sector and the role of real-time data

In a world with dynamic population movements, outbreaks with cross-border implications, and increasingly politicized health issues, linear and inflexible approaches to global health programs are ineffective. Adaptive management has emerged as one possible approach that embodies iteration and adaptability in program design and implementation to help with navigating complex and dynamic environments. It entails iterative program timelines, funding mechanisms, monitoring and evaluation plans, and implementation strategies that allow for a process of continuous “learning by doing.” It builds in explicit processes of testing, learning, and iteration throughout the project lifecycle and calls for an organizational culture that embraces flexibility and learns from its failures. Real-time data systems can strengthen adaptive management by generating data that can more rapidly inform tactical adaptations, changes, and future planning. This white paper challenges traditional project management in the global development sector. It encourages donors, policymakers, implementers, and ministries of health to set a new precedent of adaptive programming.

Publication date: February 2021

Compasses when there are no maps: The growing importance of adaptive management to the development sector and the role of real-time data

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