Lessons from DECI on adaptive management

DECI-3 Blog

Lessons from DECI on adaptive management

By Ricardo Ramírez and Dal Brodhead, DECI-3.

The following are elements of DECI of possible relevance to other programs:

  • Element 1: DECI principles are enhanced with those of CAE (collaborative approaches to evaluation)

While neither Utilization-Focused Evaluation nor Research Communication planning emphasize participation per se, in our experience the hybrid approach is a very effective platform for collaborative learning.  The list of the DECI Principles and those of CAE appear below. They have proven to be well aligned and complementary (as is discussed in a chapter of Ramírez, R. & Brodhead, D. (2020) entitled “Comparing the validity of two sets of evaluation principles: Adding value to both” that appears on pages 185 to 212. In: Cousins, B. et. al. (Editors). Collaborative Approaches to Evaluation: Principles in Use. SAGE).

DECI Principles

  1. Utilization-focused evaluation is a decision-making framework.
  2. Research communication enhances use of findings for influence.
  3. Attention is paid to readiness from the beginning.
  4. Training is demand-driven and provided through just-in-time mentoring.
  5. Course correction of project strategy is expected and planned.
  6. Utilization is the focus from initial project design to completion.
  7. A collaborative, learning and reflective process is embedded.
  8. Participation and shared ownership are fundamental.
  9. The process builds individual and organizational capacity.
  10. Complexity and evolving contexts are addressed.

CAE Principles

  1. Clarify motivation for collaboration
  2. Foster meaningful relationships
  3. Develop a shared understanding of the program
  4. Promote appropriate participatory processes
  5. Monitor and respond to the resource availability
  6. Monitor evaluation process and quality
  7. Promote evaluative thinking
  8. Follow through to realize use
  9. Clarify motivation for collaboration

The CAE principles appear in: Shulha, L., Whitmore, E., Cousins, J. B., Gilbert, N., & Al Hudib, H. (2016). Introducing evidence based principles to guide collaborative approaches to evaluation: Results of an empirical process. American Journal of Evaluation, Volume 37(2), pages 193 to 217.

  • Element 2: Emphasis on readiness

Readiness is about having a real commitment to learning, adaptation and reflection. It means having the resources, the time and the dedicated staff. It needs to reflect or create an organizational culture where evaluation, communication and adaptive management become core to programing. In our practice readiness is not taken for granted; it is verified and where possible enhanced. DECI has developed an MoU and a self-assessment 1-pager to address this topic.

  • Element 3: Emphasis on mentoring for experiential learning

Learning evaluation and communication planning works best through experiential learning that is timed with the cycle of a project. Workshop training is only practical for awareness raising about the approach, but it does not deliver the skills required. Just-in-time mentoring allows the project to receive targeted assistance at each stage of the process, which enables the staff to put the tools to work when their attention is focused.

  • Element 4: Emphasis on mentoring in UFE and ResCom as “excuses” to pause and reflect

The mentoring process is based on a sequence of steps in evaluation and communication design.  The mentors “earn a space” to interrupt the busy pace of a project and get the team to reflect on what is being done, why, with whom, how and for what purpose.  As basic as this sounds, the voluntary and external nature of the interruption has significant value.

  • Element 5: Emphasis on Theory of Change (ToC)

Research projects can be dynamic especially when the subject matter is new. This situation means that project outcomes are either hard to predict or their level of importance evolves.  We have witnessed how often projects need to course-correct and rely on evaluation feedback to inform these decisions.  Our ongoing work with ToC is assisting the projects in visualizing the strategy and using it as a discussion board to keep the team on track of its evolution. Since the hybrid approach is essentially a decision-making process, the ToC component is a natural complement.

  • Element 6: Emphasis on being a non IDRC facilitator

An asset we bring is not being part of IDRC, but rather a third party that is also in an action-learning mode. The fact that projects engage with DECI on a voluntary basis is important: we can ask questions that are independent of the funders’ bias – which places us in a neutral role.

  • Element 7: A backbone capacity / role

In the Collective Impact approach, one of the key elements is the backbone organization that coordinates the separate projects. There are several organizational configurations and DECI does not, at this stage, play this role.  However, the potential is there, if resources were allocated [that would not add more work-load to the partners] to shift from having a family of projects working along parallel lines, to one where they are contributing to a collective research design.  CI does require resources and, most importantly, a long-term commitment.