Using adaptive development to support feminist action

Research reports and studies
April 2016
Tam O'Neil

Development trends are cyclical. Concerns, issues and approaches – as well as the people and funding attached to them – rise and fall like astrological bodies. Right now adaptive development and gender are two moons in the ascendency in the development universe. Will they orbit harmoniously or are they set to collide?

This paper argues that the gender and adaptive development communities have something to offer each other and that collaboration can be mutually strategic. These communities begin with a shared understanding of development as being as much about power and politics as economics, and have a shared experience of trying to break down an organisational ghetto.

The paper looks at four priniciples of adaptive development and their application to feminist action: (i) support change led by local stakeholders, not external funders; (ii) start with problems or issues, not with ready-made solutions; (iii) be politically informed and use smart tactics; and (iv) build learning and adaptation into organisations and programmes.

After outlining the principles, each section reflects on why aid-funded women’s organisations and gender-related programmes may not work in this way and provides examples of some that do. The paper concludes with outlining areas in which the gender and adaptive development communities could further learn from each other.