Prioritising Competing M&E Needs and Demands in an Adaptive Programme: 7 Takeaways

In this blog post, Gloria Sikustahili, Julie Adkins, Japhet Makongo & Simon Milligan discuss seven key lessons about effective monitoring and evaluation from their experiences of implementing a ‘iterative programming and adaptive management’ approach in the Institutions for Inclusive Development programme in Tanzania.

We’ve all been there. We’ve drowned in the weight of programme documentation; the need to capture everything, to report everything, to be seen to be held accountable for all our actions or inactions. Yet on other occasions we’ve all sighed with exasperation that the programme we’re tasked with supporting has very little to help us understand what’s happened along the way, and why decisions were made.

So how do we strike the right balance? Whose needs are we meeting? And how do we better negotiate and prioritise the needs of different documentation users?

The DFID and IrishAid-funded Institutions for Inclusive Development programme in Tanzania – a “test tube baby” on iterative programming and adaptive management – explores new ways of tackling wicked problems in a variety of areas, such as solid waste management, inclusive education, and menstrual health. As a programme designed to be agile and opportunistic, it needs to have fast feedback loops so that staff and partners can make informed decisions about if and how to adjust strategy and tactics during implementation. It must also be accountable for its performance and generate lessons about how change occurs.

So, as the programme enters its final months of implementation, what lessons have we learned about M&E in an adaptive programme in terms of what, when and how to document and for whom? Here are our seven takeaways:

  1. All parties benefit when genuine attempt is made to understand not only the programme theory of change, but also the basis for certain actions during the adaptive process. It pays to build rapport with donors and reviewers; to understand their interests, needs, concerns and motivations. While this might not necessarily lead to fewer requests, it can lead to more streamlined responses; responses that ‘tick the box’ first time around. Annual reviewers and mid-term evaluators also need to understand the interests of implementers and the programme managers rather than focusing only on donors’ interests. This means reviewers should take time to understand the programme’s journey to date and future trajectory, while balancing the interests of both parties is a necessity. All too often we, as human beings, find ourselves believing certain things of our partners, be they donors, reviewers, implementers, partner agencies or others. We can project our own insecurities, values, beliefs, assumptions and prejudices onto others, and can react negatively when faced with “another silly demand for yet more documentation”.
  1. Utilisation is key and this needs to shape decision-making about what and when to document, and for whom. Documentation efforts should be clear-headed and purposeful. In much the same way as Michael Patton champions Utilization-Focused Evaluation, programmes should adopt a similar principle, i.e. that the need to document should be judged on its likely usefulness to its intended users, including donors, reviewers, managers, implementers and partners. Without agreement and clarity about purpose, intended user and relative costs, programmes end up documenting for documentation’s sake. But with actions come consequences. Excessive time spent ‘feeding the beast’ is time spent away from working towards an intended outcome.
  1. Documentation needs and demands need to be negotiated and balanced: there is an ever-present risk of prioritising the documentation needs of funders and reviewers at the expense of managers and implementers, and doing so can be counterproductive. Don’t get us wrong: we aren’t saying there is a binary choice between the needs of funders and reviewers on the one hand, and implementers on the other. Yet, the reality is that those working hands on, at the front line, make decisions in real time and do so against a backdrop of uncertainty and incomplete or implicit understanding. By contrast, managers and implementers are often involved in slower, more structured processes. This meeting of two related, yet different realities creates an environment in which different needs, expectations and demands must be successfully navigated, even negotiated. Senior managers, such as team leaders, often find themselves acting as a buffer or intermediary with the donor. Inevitably, unclear, excessive or competing expectations about what must be documented creates uncertainty, bias and inefficiencies. All information users – donors, reviewers, implementers and partners – should think through what must be documented and reported, from what might be documented and reported and from what they would like to see rather than love to see documented and reported in an ideal world (thanks to outcome mapping for this prompt). As a general rule of thumb, key information should be synthesised and summarised as headlines. Brevity in documentation forces clarity of thought and aids the production of ‘formal’ reporting (annual & semi-annual reports, case studies, and even blogs!) when required.
  1. To aid programme performance, donors must make choices and recognise the consequences of their signals. We acknowledge that all parties (funders, managers and implementers) require a certain level of documentation for accountability and sense-making purposes. OK, let’s get the “Yeah, obviously” observation out of the way first. Programmes have many constituencies or stakeholders, not least the donor agencies, and each party have their own needs and interests in documentation. Of course, where programmes are under-performing, close scrutiny is expected and necessary. However, staff within donor agencies hold positions of power. General queries or requests for information can be construed as demands – demands that often require the time-consuming compilation of documentation without a clear rationale and can result in airbrushed content which overlooks the messy realities. Unfiltered lists of questions, requests and comments from a variety of donor staff to a report, for example, can tie up implementers as they seek to make sense of, justify and explain, resulting in a ping pong to and fro which might have better resolved out over a cup of coffee. A confident programme with confident, capable and experienced staff can push back but this takes time and trust, and neither come over night. 
  1. Reflection and documentation are two related, important, yet different things. I4ID, like many agile programmes, is built on experimentation. Staff value reflection but the process must be shaped by a desire to improve performance. To borrow from Graham Teskey’s recent blog post, purposeful reflection allows implementers to reach a decision about specific workstreams (i.e. this is what we are going to do from here); which  means that implementers will necessarily prioritise capture of what they need to know to move forward, building on tacit knowledge and shared understanding. And, that reflection-and-capture need not translate to extensive documentation. Yet, challenges arise when donors and reviewers seek to make sense of often messy realities, a number of months after the event. This can lead to a situation in which events and decisions are fully documented not because it is valuable to implementation but to cover off possible future need and demands. The answer? Understanding, keeping line of sight on what matters, and accepting ‘good enough’. The most successful staff capture-and-reflection platforms are those founded on real-time discussion and action. Early efforts in I4ID to document key events on a weekly basis using a Word-based template and again on a monthly basis using an Excel-based dashboard stagnated within 12 months. By contrast, those platforms that thrived at I4ID – the Monday morning meetings, staff WhatsApp groups, and the Quarterly Strategic Reviews by the programme team, donors and some invitees – were founded on real-time exchange of reflections and ideas. This suggests that staff respond more favourably to live, interactive platforms, not an impersonal capture and storage. These platforms should be well organised and managed to avoid biases and defensiveness.
  1. Synthesis occurs most readily where discussions are well structured. Discussion is great, yet it must lead to something. For that to occur, use should be made of three key questions in key events (e.g. weekly meetings, strategic reviews) and associated minutes: What? So what? Now what? For example, what has happened in the operating environment over the last month, what programme effects have we seen, and what lessons have we learned about how change occurs? So, what does that mean for us and specifically, if/how our programme can best support the reform agenda? Now what should be done and by whom, not least before we next meet? Objective discussions require good facilitation to avoid bias and defensive reactions. 
  1. Donors should consolidate and localise oversight functions wherever possible. The decision to have multiple levels of oversight – the donor agencies themselves, the annual reviewers appointed by the donors to verify the claims made by a programme, and the external evaluators appointed by the donors to capture lessons identified by the programme – creates a living organism that has many needs and expectations. Sometimes these are aligned, other times not. So, it is right to ask, at what point can oversight functions (e.g. an external Results and Challenge team that produces annual reviews, and a separate external Mid-Term and End-of-Programme-Evaluation team) be consolidated or streamlined? Donors should ensure that local institutions are included in the evaluation and reviewer teams to get local perspective on the process and results, build capacity to local stakeholders and promote adaptive programming locally.   

The Community Development Potential: Connecting Ourselves with Wider Change

Jim Cowan writes for the CDJ Blog on his latest book, The Britain Potential, and how community development thinking can adapt to incorporate wider concepts from social and political thinking.

In my book The Britain Potential, I draw on a number of analytical and practice frameworks from writers outside community development whose ideas are drawn from social psychology, political philosophy, and social constructionism. I have found such ideas can also help bring out, what I have called `the community development potential`. Community development, with its decades long track record of integrity, is all the stronger, in my opinion, for critically embodying frameworks that can connect it with much wider change. Let me explain.

For over 40 years I have worked with people living on housing estates, families seeking support, black and white people working together with shared anti-racist aims, and people with disabilities.

Doing community development every day, decade after decade, in these communities, I saw how the country works from the ground up, through the eyes of all the people I was working with. I knew the work I was doing with communities was always saying something much bigger. But how to find that bigger story? And if you find it, does it then shed any new light on community development? Does it help bring out `the community development potential`?

When I retired in 2012 I finally had the time to write the book that had been sitting inside me for years. People kept asking me what I was writing. I found myself replying, “Britain is a country with huge potential, but it is not realising that potential by a long way.” Not one person disagreed! Now that the book has been published, still no one has disagreed. Britain`s potential has definitely been held back. Community development is very much part of the process ofrealising this potential (along with many other interventions, initiatives and developments).

By exploring the idea of `potential`, I found a framework that does, I think, shed new light on community development. It comes from the work of Ken Wilber, a writer who has drawn from psychology, other academic disciples, as well as many strands of spiritual practice and writing outside academia. He has colour coded the stages of consciousness that he regards humanity as having been through and is moving into.  He is not talking about the actual mechanics whereby brain matter generates consciousness (the stuff of cognitive and neuro science). Rather he is talking about what colours and creates very specific states of awareness of oneself in relation to the world. In his words:

…there are indeed higher and lower (or more or less evolved and aware) structures of consciousness, and we, as individuals and societies, can grow to higher levels in progressive stages or waves of development.”

In my opinion, these colour coded form of consciousness offer those training community workers, as well as workers in the field, a valuable tool. They can become part of the deeply reflexive, ongoing, continual effort at the 360 degree personal development and autonomy necessary to do the work professionally.

Here is a diagram of Wilber`s colour coded consciousnesses

Wilber`s amber consciousness is about ethnocentric and controlling rules, norms, and forms of leadership like organised religion or institutions. But historically these kinds of structures enabled effort on a large scale, often stable and enduring. From its initial concept there was something of the amber about the welfare state.

Orange defines the shift from medieval to enlightenment thinking. This is leadership based on reason aiming for universals. It is critical of dogma and is responsive to change. But it is a materialistic kind of rationality. Inner life is disconnected. Today this is very much the world of science, technology, business and the market thinking of government.

What Wilber calls green consciousness is a pluralistic, non-directive leadership very able to spot problems but not at all good at coming up with solutions. The search for consensus can be endless! Green has powered civil rights, environmental movements and feminism.

Wilber characterises this heady mix of amber, orange and green as very much powering an increasingly polarised public culture. What amber, orange and green have in common is that they think they are the right way to view the world.  He rates amber and orange as being in the majority in the population (maybe 65%) and green as `the leading edge` at around 25%.

A quantum leap on from these forms of consciousnesses is teal which is present in between 5-10% of the population and destined, he believes, (because of the limitations of the other consciousnesses), to be a future leading edge. Teal is ultra-humanistic leadership with strong holistic problem-solving capabilities. It takes deliberate ongoing personal effort to develop and sustain teal. That teal is real and operating in the world is evidenced in, for example the ground breaking research on organisations by Frederic Laloux, as well as my book (Cowan 2019).

To flesh this out in ways that start to shed new light on community development, I say this about teal coloured consciousness in my book:

“The ego is not in the driving seat. There is a quest for wholeness, bringing together the ego and deeper parts of the self. A more expansive, embracing self is there. Teal is not fearful and needing to control. Problems become challenges. How can we grow from engaging with this problem? There is a healthy development of self and concern and interest in others. Teals develop themselves inwardly, spiritually. But they are able to connect this with complex realities. Life is always teaching us about ourselves and the world.  Teal has thinking and rationality, teal has doing, and it also has being the person I can be. Teal will tap into all kinds of knowing from analytics to the wisdom to be found through emotion and intuition”.

This gives us another take on community development`s objective of empowering others to be in control. Unlike the other forms of consciousness, which think they are right, teal understands these other forms of consciousness and can work with them. It is a particularly subtle form of leadership which holds the space, for example, for community activists to take those early steps, and then more steps with more people and so on.

Jim Cowan`s book The Britain Potential is available via Via the website, subscribers can get the first chapter as a taster, which some university lecturers are beginning to use to run a project with students.


Wilber, K and others. (2008). Integral Life Practice. Integral Books. Pg 74

Laloux, F. (2014). Reinventing Organizations. Nelson Parker.

Cowan, J. (2019). The Britain Potential. Arena Books. 2019. Pg 27

50 years of the Community Development Journal

CDJ logo50th Anniversary Edition of the Community Development Journal available for FREE until
14th February

For the past 50 years, since 1966, the Community Development Journal (CDJ) has been the foremost journal in its field and remains so today as recognised, among other things, by its current impact factor score of 1.174.


To celebrate this impressive record of publication Oxford University Press (OUP) are proud to publish the 50th Anniversary Issue edited by Mick Carpenter, Akwugo Emejulu and Marilyn Taylor: ‘What’s New and Old in Community Development?‘. The articles in different ways address the legacies of the past and community development’s continuing relevance to  present and future challenges. A central issue addressed is the extent to which neoliberal globalization has in the 21st Century narrowed the scope and possibilities for community development based on principles of social justice and collective change. The articles demonstrate that the potential to subvert neoliberalism remains, and assert the continuing significance of the state as a vehicle for progressive social change.
In addition to the Editorial Introduction by Mick Carpenter, Akwugo Emejulu and Akwugo Emejulu, there are stimulating articles by Marjorie Mayo, Sue Kenny, Akwugo Emejulu and Edward Scanlon, Peter Westoby and Kristen Lyons, Silla Marie March Sievers, Suyoung Kim, Jacob Lesniewski and Ransin Canon, and Jenny Harrow and Tobias Jung. In addition Martin Mowbray reviews Cynthia Cockburn’s Classic Text The Local State and Matthew Scott’s Review article reviews recent texts on wealth and inequality.


RESOURCES: CDJ 50th Anniversary Conference

DSCF0334We were delighted to welcome delegates to Edinburgh at the beginning of July for the CDJ 50th Anniversary Conference: Why Community Development? Continuity and Innovation.

In the spirit of widening participation, we will be gradually uploading resources from this event – including presentation slides, video and critical reflections –  to CDJ Plus in the coming weeks.

We’ve already got some initial materials up on our new dedicated page:
50th Anniversary Conference.

Please do keep checking back to see what else we’ve added!

EVENT: CDS 46th Anniversary International Conference

19th-22nd July 2015

Lexington, Kentucky, USA

Registration for the Community Development Society’s Conference on “Creativity and Culture: Community Development – Approaches for Strengthening Health, Environment, Economic Vibrancy, Social Justice and Democracy” is now open.

Full details can be found on the CDS website.

Early bird rate available for those who register before 20th June.


EVENT: Commons against and beyond capitalism?

A Thinkery with Silvia Federici, George Caffentzis and Anne B. Ryan

Thinkery imageThursday 28th May 2015

University College Cork, Ireland

During the first part of this day-long Thinkery, which will be led by Silvia Federici and George Caffentzis, you will be invited to listen, think and converse with others about anti-capitalist commoning. Based in New York, they are part of an international movement that asserts ‘commons’ can be the seeds of a society beyond state and market.

A long-time feminist and anti-globalization activist, teacher and writer, Silvia Federici’s books include Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction and Feminist Struggle (2012) and Caliban and the Witch. Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation (2004). Founding member of the Midnight Notes Collective, George Caffentzis’ latest book is In Letters of Blood and Fire: Work, Machines and the Crisis of Capitalism (2013). An overview of their perspective on the commons can be found in this article

Learning together about the commons will continue in the afternoon, but here the focus will be on actual and emergent commoning in Ireland. Discussing her work on the radical concept of ‘enough’ and her practical experience of Community Supported Farming, this will include a contribution from Anne B. Ryan. She is the author of Enough is Plenty: Public and Private Policies for the 21st century (2009).

There is no charge for participation but booking in advance is essential. Please book by emailing Órla O’Donovan at

The event follows on from Commons Sense – A Thinkery on the Commons held in Kimmage Centre for Development Studies in 2014 and addressed by Gustavo Esteva, Mexican post-development theorist and commoner. A video of that event can be watched here and a transcript of the conversation can be found here.

10.00am – 4.30pm, Thursday, 28 May 2015

CACSSS Seminar Room (ORB G27), University College Cork

This event is organised in association with the Community Development Journal, University College Cork, UNIDEV and Kimmage Development Studies Centre.

CALL FOR ABSTRACTS: The Ashgate Research Companion to Community Development

Abstracts due by 29th May 2015

Edited by Dr Lynda Shevellar and Dr Peter Westoby of The University of Queensland, Australia, the aim of the (provisionally titled) Ashgate Research Companion to Community Development is to provide scholars and graduate students with a comprehensive and authoritative state-of-the-art review of the current research in this subject.

As a topic, it is particularly attractive owing to its inter-disciplinary nature. In addition to community development scholars, the work will appeal to graduates and academics working within the fields of social work, sociology, political science, and development studies. The research companion will be aimed towards the academic library market. Authors will be drawn from around the world, with their writing receiving assistance from an international peer review panel, including Emeritus Professor Marjorie Mayo, Emeritus
Professor Jim Ife, Associate Professor James DeFilippis and Dr Akwugo Emejulu.

The process

Abstracts of 500 words are due by 29th May 2015. All authors will be notified of the final decision by 31st August 2015. Selected authors will then be invited to contribute a full chapter of 6,500 words, due March 2016. Chapters will undergo a peer review process with senior scholars in community development, to assist in the further development of writing.

The final manuscript will be delivered to Ashgate in February 2017, for publication and release in 2017.

What we are seeking

Abstracts are now being sought for book chapters from authors undertaking
community development research in any of the following areas:

  • Populations facing forced displacement such as asylum seekers, refugees and
    people enduring development induced displacement
  • Social development in post-conflict or transition communities
  • Violence in a domestic sphere such as domestic violence and child protection
  • Responses to indigenous marginalization
  • Climate change mitigation and adaptation
  • Food sovereignty and security and the politics of food
  • Survival development – including responses to natural disasters and pandemics

Although the book is focused upon community development, scholars engaged in community-oriented research in cognate disciplines are also encouraged to submit an abstract.

Please send your 500-word abstract, (including contact details and affiliations) by email to Dr Lynda Shevellar by the 29th May 2015. Email:

CDJ 50th Anniversary Virtual Issue

CDJ logoThe CDJ 50th Anniversary Virtual Issue is now freely available online for anyone to read.

The Virtual Issue includes 11 articles from the Community Development Journal archives –  selected for their ongoing significance and contribution to thinking – plus an editorial introduction from Keith Popple.

Links to individual articles can be found below. The Virtual Issue can also be found in full on the Oxford University Press website, accompanied by short contributions from the individuals who has made each selection explaining why they chose the paper.

Keith Popple

Popple, K. (2008) ‘The first forty years: the history of the Community Development Journal
Selected by Mick Carpenter and Keith Popple

Batten, T. R. (1974) ‘The Major Issues and Future Direction of Community Development’
Selected by Sue Kenny
International Advisory Board member

Waddington, P. (1979) ‘Looking ahead: community work in the 1980s’
Selected by Marilyn Taylor
Editorial Board member

Smiley, C. W. (1982) ‘Managing agreement: the Albilene Paradox’
Selected by Gary Craig
Editor 1981-1997

Botes, L. and van Rensburg, D. (2000) ‘Community participation in development: nine plagues and twelve commandments’
Selected by Mick Carpenter

Cannan, C. (2000) ‘The environmental crisis, greens and community development’
Selected by Keith Popple
Editor 1998-2003

Shaw, M. and Martin, I. (2000) ‘Community work, citizenship and democracy: remaking the connections’
Selected by Marjorie Mayo
Former Editorial Board member

Berner, E. and Phillips, B. (2005) ‘Left to their own devices? Community self-help between alternative development and neo liberalism’
Selected by Kwok-Ki Fung
International Advisory Board member

Cornwall, A. (2008) ‘Unpacking “Participation”: models, meaning and practices’
Selected by Mae Shaw
Editorial Board member

Andharia, J. (2009) ‘Editorial: Critical Explorations of Community Organization in India’
Selected by Chris Miller
Editor 2003-2009

Ennis, G. and West, D. (2013) ‘Using social network analysis in community development practice and research: a case study’
Selected by Nino Vasadze
International Advisory Board member



EVENT: Unitec Community Development Conference 2015

18th – 20th February 2015

Unitech Institute of Technology, New Zealand

Bringing together practitioners, academics and students to share their knowledge, research and stories about community development.

Major themes include placemaking, community economic development, diverse communities and re-claiming democracy, with quality assured papers, poster presentations and practical skills workshops.

Download the draft conference programme (PDF).

Find out who is presenting – download the presentation details (PDF).

Registration is now open: click here for details.

EVENT: Keib Thomas Community Development Memorial Lecture

11th February 2015

London Metropolitan University, UK

Re-asserting the right to be heard: Manifesto for Organising Community Development for Social and Political Change – Post May 2015

This event is open to anyone with an interest in community development.  It is a forum for workers and practitioners. This forum is for Community Development Workers/Practitioners (volunteer or paid) from all sectors working with communities in London. Managers, policy workers and academics and students are also welcome.

This event is open to anyone with an interest in community development.  It is a forum for workers and practitioners. This forum is for Community Development Workers/Practitioners (volunteer or paid) from all sectors working with communities in London. Managers, policy workers and academics and students are also welcome.

Date & Time:
Wednesday 11 February 2015, 6.00 pm to 8.45pm

London Metropolitan University, Henry Thomas Room TG30, Tower Building, 166-220 Holloway Road, London, N7 8DB

Booking is required to attend this free event. Click here to book a place.

This event is being organised by Community Development Network London. To find out more about the network, contact Matt Scott: matt [at]