Turning adaptive programming theory into practice 370x298

Coffey recently held a training workshop focused on the Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) – an approach to development programming that is increasingly being integrated by the UK Department for International Development into its programming. The workshop focused on programs aimed at improving security, particularly in conflict-affected contexts.

Many institutional reform initiatives in developing countries have failed to achieve sustained improvements in performance, and PDIA is seen as an alternative and more effective approach to institutional reform.

Lead Social Development Specialist for the World Bank Development Research Group Dr Michael Woolcock, an originator of the PDIA approach, participated in the workshop.

Michael explained that while the prevailing aid architecture is good for some problems, it is too often inadequately situated to engage with complex development challenges.

“PDIA sets out an approach for doing development differently,” Michael said.

First, PDIA focuses on solving locally nominated and locally defined problems. This means that instead of development practitioners assuming they understand the problem and transplanting ‘best practice’ solutions into the given context, the issues that need addressing are identified by people dealing with them every day.

Second, PDIA encourages experimentation in how programs are delivered. It leaves much more leeway to the project implementers to try different solutions.

Third, by getting quick feedback on how a program is progressing, implementers can rapidly learn what is working and what isn’t. This means they can continuously adjust the program based on new information.

Finally, PDIA encourages the active involvement of many different people. Instead of a small group of external experts promoting ideas from the top down, multiple individuals are involved in proposing answers to the problems being addressed. This ensures that reforms are viable and legitimate.

“By putting into practice PDIA’s principles, teams working on security programs can begin to contribute to this global social movement and collectively learn to experiment, adapt and innovate in order to better respond to complex challenges,” said Michael.

Workshop attendees included staff implementing a UK government funded project aimed at strengthening the Afghan Ministry of Interior, as well as teams from a peacebuilding program in Pakistan and from a community security program in Kenya.