Becoming an Adaptive Learning Organization & Identifying the Tools to Help Get You There

Dinah Sandoval Reimagining Projects, Rethinking Organizations

The development sector increasingly recognizes the need for organizations to embrace adaptive management practices to achieve lasting change to address systemic and complex social issues. For those who are new to this methodology, “Adaptive rigour: bridging the art and science of adaptive management,” breaks down the concepts well.  However, finding the right tools, metrics, or signals to help inform adaptations is not always easy. This past year, Children International (CI) sought to address this need by testing four tools through a process involving lean experimentation and design thinking. 

Root Change has worked with CI over the past several years to co-facilitate an organizational transformation process, called CI+, in which interdisciplinary teams have experimented around challenges such as improving internal communications, learning new ways of partnering, finding more effective ways of reaching strategic programmatic objectives, and responding to community needs. Through this process, CI realized that their current performance indicators did not provide them with the information they needed to make informed and timely programmatic changes to achieve greater impact. However, the global organizational behavior change provided by CI+ created the right environment to test tools that will get them closer to their mission

Experimenting to Find the Right Tools

As a result, a pioneering group comprised of field and headquarter (HQ) staff came together in Guayaquil, Ecuador to form teams to experiment with four data tools. The approaches were a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods, selected to enable CI to learn and respond to local needs and address their organizational and contextual needs:

  1. Poverty Stoplight, a family self-evaluation and goal setting tool,
  2. Constituent Voice, a feedback collection, analysis, and dialogue methodology,
  3. Most Significant Change, a technique involving the generating and analysis of personal stories of change, and
  4. Coverage, Quality, and Efficiency (CCE), a compound data set involving participation, effect size, and cost-effective measures.

Root Change facilitated a six-month engagement to support these four teams to carry out real-life experiments to test each tool’s’ applicability, quality as an adaptive management tool, and fit within the context of the organization. Although some of the team members were significant distances apart–as was the case of the HQ staff based in Kansas City–they found ways to be involved throughout the process. The interdisciplinary teams allowed for, “different perspectives and experiences which made the conversations richer,” said Erin Morse, Program Officer for Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning at CI’s headquarters in Kansas City. 

Over the course of two months, teams worked together to test tools in the field. Each experiment cycle ended with a reconvening of all the teams to reflect on their two-month implementation, facilitate information sharing across teams, collect feedback on the process, facilitate team building, and to redesign experiments.

Applying Learning & Rolling Out Tools

After six months and three rounds of iteration, a final gathering took place in Guayaquil to share findings, document recommendations, and decide which tools to roll out to the rest of the CI’s 13 field offices. It was decided to roll out Constituent Voice in a phased approach to help other field offices “learn into” using feedback. Currently, CI is launching feedback with 5 out of the 13 field offices, with plans to roll out it out across the organization early next year. Poverty Stoplight is being formally piloted in Guayaquil with a group of 100 families, in partnership with Fundación Paraguaya. The other tools are also being incorporated into CI’s suite of monitoring and evaluation tools to enhance the way they evaluate their programs.

The Poverty Stoplight team presents learning from their experiments using the tool.

This engagement has opened new possibilities for CI. Gabriella Castillo, a member of the Constituent Voice team in Guayaquil, says that the experience has changed her into a human-centered professional convinced that to do effective work one must, “escuchar a nuestros beneficiarios e incluirlos en la toma de decisiones” (“listen to our communities and include them in the decision making process”). The ongoing evolution of the organization into a learning and adaptive institution has begun to enable CI to be more responsive to the communities they seek to serve and to be more responsive to each other by making informed pivots and adaptations when necessary. Erin, who participated in the Poverty Stoplight team, said that through this experimental process, the organization has, “learned one way to make organizational decisions through input from multiple stakeholders,” and that it takes time but in the end, “you get to a better result and everyone has ownership.”