Adapting to change and uncertainty is crucial to the sustainability and success of any development intervention. While the need for forward-looking decision making is clearly documented, much of the debate remains heavily conceptual, with scant attention paid to how to do it in practice.
Despite the need for principles of Flexible and Forward-looking Decision Making (FFDM) to be embedded in all stages of development planning, few development programmes adequately consider future changes to their external and internal environments in programme design. Fewer still have sought to instigate the organisational reforms needed to ensure that activities are compatible with future outlooks, and account for change and uncertainty within planning processes.
Several key questions thus remain: Why has conventional development programming struggled to deal with change and uncertainty? What are the primary barriers to a flexible forward-looking approach within development contexts? And how can the obstacles to integration and implementation for FFDM be overcome?
In seeking to address some of these queries, this paper explores key institutional barriers in preventing effective FFDM within development policy and programming. More specifically, it explores the influence of various institutional and sociopolitical drivers on the ability of district governance processes to adapt to change and uncertainty.
To do this, it synthesises research findings from two phases of research conducted by the Africa Climate Change Resilience Alliance (ACCRA). The research focuses predominantly on district government and INGO partners in three African countries – namely, Ethiopia, Mozambique and Uganda.
The paper points to the strong influence of institutional and sociopolitical barriers to FFDM at the local level. It highlights the benefits of using a political economy analysis (PEA), and points to four entry points for overcoming key barriers and promoting adaptive capacity. Finally, it argues that, while incremental changes to policy and programming can result in large gains, system-wide transformation (in terms of interest, motivations and incentives) is needed in order for FFDM to be effectively adopted across scales.