Webinar: Iterative and Adaptive Humanitarian Action: A Discussion with ALNAP and Practitioners

Date Published: June 18, 2018 Author: InterAction
Photo of Webinar: Iterative and Adaptive Humanitarian Action: A Discussion with ALNAP and Practitioners


Moderator: Jenny McAvoy, Director of Protection, InterAction

Presenter: Alice Obrecht, Senior Research Fellow, ALNAP


  • Sarah Henly-Shepard, Senior Advisor for Climate Change and Resilience, Mercy Corps
  • Katherine Kramer, Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability, and Learning Advisor, Geneva Call
  • Monica Stephen, Conflict and Security Advisor, Saferworld

Building on ALNAP’s work on evaluating humanitarian innovation and emerging research on adaptive humanitarian action, this webinar aimed to: explore why adaptive management is important for humanitarian actors; examine supportive conditions and the challenges actors face in trying to adapt in complex and dynamic crises; and identify outcome-oriented methods and ways of working that support continuous reflection and using information gathered to inform more responsive interventions.

Practitioners from Mercy Corps, Geneva Call, and Saferworld reflected on their approaches to iterative learning and adaptation for protection outcomes and discussed cultivating a supportive environment for these approaches. The discussion highlighted several relevant points to results-based protection, including:

Unpacking “Adaptiveness”: In crises characterized by complexity, change, and uncertainty, there is the growing perception that the sector is not sufficiently agile – with external and internal barriers stifling innovation and adaptation. While we may have some systems that allow us to deliver services and products in volatile contexts, there is a need to create systems and approaches that allow us to respond quickly while also adapting regularly. Thinking about the “site of flexibility” – operational, strategic, or programmatic – may help us better identify prompts for adaptation and determine different ways of working simultaneously.
Starting with the perspective of affected populations: The design of humanitarian responses should start from defining the problem as experienced by affected people. Context-specific analysis can help us establish indicators appropriate for measuring changes in the situation and determine the effectiveness of interventions in the particular context. Panelists reflected on what “good enough” analysis looks like in humanitarian crises and emphasized that analysis should not be a “box-ticking exercise” but continuous practice throughout the intervention.

M&E is a critical capacity for adaptiveness: Those who tend to be most adaptive have processes that anchor decisions to change in objectives/ design criteria. The monitoring and evaluation of humanitarian innovation may offer useful approaches and resources for capturing the “pivots” in programming based on learning and ways to embed evaluative thinking in program design and implementation (rather than at the end of a project).Suggested resources: ALNAP papers on M&E of evaluation; HIF’s New Guide on Innovation Management; Response Innovation Lab; Ian Gray’s “Theory of Change for Adaptive Management” (tool forthcoming), Saferworld’s Learning Paper Doing things differently: Rethinking monitoring and evaluation to understand change
Adaptiveness requires commitment across the entire organization – from senior management to human resources, logistics, procurement, fundraising, partnerships, programme management, and M&E. Learning needs to be an explicit priority (not just assumed) which is embedded in programme design and funded. Panelists spoke of how HR can play a critical role in screening, recruiting, and retaining staff who possess the capacities for reflection, analysis, and willingness to embrace different approaches and ways of working. Furthermore, dedicated funding can support an organizational mindset shift and inculturation of continuous reflection and learning, as well as strengthening internal capacities to facilitate this process.
Empowering Field Staff: Transferring decision-making to the closest point possible can help ensure relevancy to context (while also facilitating timely decision-making and avoiding “collaboration fatigue”).


Photo By: Antonio Aragon Renun is licensed under the CC BY-NC 4.0 license.