Abt’s versatile adaptive management strategies help programs determine the most efficient and effective routes to success.
Adaptive management at Abt starts with cultivating a learning culture within each program. We commit to understanding and testing our assumptions. Following the lead of local partners and stakeholders, we tailor our approaches to the local context. We also use data-driven processes and tools to gain insights about our work. Strategic monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) approaches are crucial to achieving impact because they enable us to continually generate and act on evidence that helps us make better policy and program decisions.
Our structured and iterative processes support decision-making that considers context and uncertainty. We can then better allocate investment, guide the activities we design and deliver, and reconsider priorities as evidence emerges.
Abt supports adaptive management with a range of processes and tools, such as:
- Theories of change to articulate our initial understanding of how we expect change to happen, and then as a reflective tool throughout programming
- Rapid-cycle learning to determine which intervention options can best achieve program goals
- Developmental evaluation, in which an Abt evaluator is “embedded” in the program to contribute research and learning based on emerging needs
- Strategy testing to reflect on contextual changes and program learning and whether the assumptions underpinning program strategies still apply
- Collaborating, learning, and adapting (CLA) approaches to incorporate systematic and intentional reflection and evidence-driven decision-making
- Politically informed, locally led, and adaptive responses (PILLAR), which provide guidance and practical tools throughout the program management cycle
Adaptive Approaches for Women’s Economic Empowerment
Investing in Women Initiative
Client: Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)
This Abt-led Australian government flagship program is empowering women in Southeast Asia to make their own economic decisions. Abt’s rigorous MEL system offers contextual insights about barriers and opportunities for women’s economic empowerment, integrates systematic learning processes from the start, and builds the evidence base to gain private sector buy-in. Investing in Women (IW) has a strong culture of evidence use and continuous improvement and prioritizes time for structured reflection and learning, which informs strategy adjustments.
In March 2020, IW surveyed private sector employees in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam on pandemic impacts. Factsheets summarizing results for in-country partners and other stakeholders—updated at the end of 2020 and in 2022—built a cumulative understanding of the emerging new normal for employees. Our rapid review in 2020 of how our business coalition partners had adapted to pandemic challenges identified good practices, emerging risks, and recommendations for future action.
Our work is paying dividends. IW has supported four new business coalitions with 112 member companies representing over 1 million employees. Over 80 percent of these companies undertake diagnostic assessments and receive services to improve their approach to workplace gender equality. IW has expanded access to capital for more than 80 women-run businesses in Southeast Asia. When IW closes in June 2023, Abt will implement the follow-on program, IWISER.
Keeping Children Learning During Lockdowns
Integrated Community Agriculture and Nutrition (ICAN) Activity
In Uganda, Abt’s team works with local government, cultural leaders, and community groups to improve nutrition, keep children in school, and promote the use of environmentally sound practices by agricultural and other enterprises. The USAID Integrated Community Agriculture and Nutrition (ICAN) Activity documents its work and tests and scales up the most effective resilience interventions while reflecting on better ways to serve communities.
When COVID-19 forced schools to close, for example, the team collaborated with Uganda’s government on a home-based remedial learning approach. The approach was implemented in 76 outdoor learning centers, reaching more than 11,000 learners, and was closely monitored by district and community leaders using an enrollment and retention tracking tool. After Uganda’s schools reopened, the team continued tracking the impact on learners’ enrollment, retention, completion of the primary school cycle, and performance—looking at those who attended the centers and those who did not to enable comparison. ICAN has found that learners who attended the home-based learning centers perform better in class than those who did not. ICAN’s local partners will continue to study the change to determine the extent to which the centers had a role in that improvement.
Innovating, Learning, and Adapting for Better HIV Outcomes
Efficiencies for Clinical HIV Outcomes
In Mozambique, where HIV is a leading cause of death, the Abt-led Efficiencies for Clinical HIV Outcomes (ECHO) project applied its organizational culture of learning to bring more people living with HIV into treatment. In 2020, the Ministry of Health had expanded eligibility for three-month drug dispensation (3MDD) for antiretroviral therapy (as opposed to monthly prescriptions). This reduced patients’ time in over-crowded health facilities at the height of the pandemic. The program started strong, but then enrollment plateaued.
ECHO already had a dedicated Innovation, Learning, and Adapting (ILA) team and long-standing investments in strengthening the capacity of local partners, including the Ministry of Health, to make data-driven decisions and adapt based on data. So, when enrollment stalled, the ILA team and other stakeholders assembled to brainstorm new interventions. They found a need to rework their research to understand the reasons behind the 3MDD decline. Monitoring teams looked at patient data, shared visualizations with stakeholders, and facilitated conversations to understand what counselors, health providers, and pharmacists envisioned as realistic solutions.
Through these and other initiatives, the team moved the needle on 3MDD enrollment from about 85,500 people to nearly 260,000 by the end of 2022. A later switch to six-month distribution further reduced the time and money patients had to spend visiting clinics to refill prescriptions. This has kept many more people on treatment and with reduced risk of passing HIV to others.
This process also broadened ECHO’s culture of learning across provinces, teams, and stakeholders. The project’s ability to innovate, learn, and adapt is stronger and better able to contribute to a more resilient health system.
Advancing Government Transparency and Countering Corruption
Mexico Economic Policy Project
Adaptive management discussions often emphasize a program’s need to capture and integrate evidence for improved planning. But our government partners often also need support to make evidence-informed decisions that benefit their citizens. Through the Mexico Economic Policy Project (MEPP), Abt helped Mexico’s federal and local government make public data available to citizens; supported government initiatives to report regulatory corruption on electronic platforms and create policy solutions for user-identified problems; and strengthened regulatory agencies’ capacity to investigate collusion and other anti-competitive practices. For example, a MEPP-developed Corruption Risk Index demonstrated that political connections—rather than changes in technology, innovation, or efficiency—had led to contractual decisions. Evidence-informed activities like this, paired with online tools for citizen engagement with federal and local government agencies, led to public contracting reforms.