How does Coalitions for Change in the Philippines Compare with other Adaptive Management Programmes?

September 11, 2019

     By Duncan Green     

Following on yesterday’s podcast + transcript about the work of the Coalitions for Change (CfC) programme in the Philippines, I thought I’d compare it to the 3 Adaptive Management programmes I’ve also been studying in Tanzania, Nigeria and Myanmar. Let’s take context first, and then think about the nuts and bolts of the different programmes.

2 issues on Context:

MICs v LICs: For a whole bunch of reasons, this kind of work seems better suited to middle income countries (MICs) rather than low income ones (LICs). The state has much more capacity to engage, although CfC found that it still appreciates support with data and evidence; there are lots of great Filipino academics and others to guide the work; civil society is stronger and more independent, so the balance of power between outsider and local organization is more equitable and genuine partnership (where local organizations are able and willing to tell internationals to shut up/get lost) easier to achieve. In addition, money is not such a decisive factor so power imbalances are smaller and outsiders are forced into more adaptive management-compatible roles such as convening conversations of local players, or bringing in the odd bit of technical assistance.

TAF and DFAT: A key difference between CfC and many other Adaptive Management programmes is the history and culture of The Asia Foundation. TAF has been working in the Philippines for 65 years, and has developed deep roots of understanding and partnership in that time. It has its own mission and its own DNA. It seems at once more embedded than the ‘fly in-fly out’ management consultants that increasingly compete for contracts for Adaptive Management projects, and more entrepreneurial and agile than many international NGOs.

Australia’s foreign ministry (DFAT) also has a long term presence and commitment in the Philippines, which translates into a high level of trust and ‘strategic patience’, allowing CfC to ‘dance with the system’, adjusting its pace to the possibilities for reform, rather than the promises in its project document. According to CfC partner Action for Economic Reform, compared to other donors:

With CfC our time is spent more productively, sometimes we are waiting for a hearing – there’s nothing to do. Other times are frenetic. With other donors we have to show something every week, even if there’s nothing worth doing. That’s not how entrepreneurs work. So we’re more motivated – nobody’s micromanaging us’.

5 issues on Mechanisms:

Emergence v Test Tube: CfC emerged out of years (decades, in the case of Jaime Faustino) of trial and error in bringing about policy change in the Philippines. That means it is highly attuned to the specificities of Philippines politics and society. In contrast, adaptive management programmes are increasingly becoming ‘test tube babies’. Design exercises where outsiders think they can work from general AM principles to create an effective programme. I have real concerns about how this is evolving, even as I realize that all the papers I write contribute to the ‘codification’ problem!

Individuals and Relationships: It’s a cliché that relationships matter, but in CfC’s case they really do. While the aid sector is more comfortable conducting its conversations in terms of institutions, rules and toolkits, success often depends on leaders and how organizations react to, encourage and avoid shutting down their efforts. In CfC’s case, leadership is deeply identified with a single individual, Jaime Faustino. A maverick spirit, Faustino is behind many of its major wins. I am really not convinced that you can create new Jaime’s with workshops and ‘trainings’. To some extent these people are born, not made, which just reinforces my scepticism about codification.

The 3 blobs work, but the links lengthen or tighten according to issue. The ‘big idea’ emerging from the AM case studies was the ‘3 blobs’ diagram, disaggregating AM into 3 interacting components. In general, CfC staff say this reflects how they work, but they have a higher degree of overlap/shorter links between the 3 blobs than the other AM programmes I looked at, built on trust between the various parties. But if an issue is a political hot potato, CfC makes sure that foreigners (whether at DFAT or TAF) keep their heads down.

3 blobs diagram
Unpacking Adaptive Management

Contestation, Stoppability and Revivability: CfC encourages a culture of discussion and (if necessary) dissent, with an unusually open acknowledgement of failure. It takes pride in ‘stoppability’ – being able to stop projects when staff or partners judge they are unlikely to deliver results. It is also open to stopped programmes being revived if new circumstances arise.

Rules of Thumb: CfC’s ‘strategic rules of thumb’ are really interesting – now I wish I had made more effort to pin these down for the other programmes! Staff identified:

  • Don’t fall in love with your reform
  • Test everything (eg going out and testing ideas with key players) then test again
  • The answer is not in the office – no substitute for interacting with decision makers and key players. ‘We do some of our best work at weddings, baptisms and funerals – everyone’s just sitting round for hours.’
  • Don’t get stuck in one agency – constantly look for who else might need to be involved.
  • Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good
  • And from the Monitoring and Evaluation folk: If teams don’t use this metric day to day, then it’s not worth doing

Subsequent conversations with Faustino identified one more:

  • ‘You have to trust competition – two is better than one. Ditto market forces – more is better’

As you can imagine, Jaime and I had quite a discussion about that last one! Thanks to everyone at CfC for a fascinating visit – wd love to hear what they or others familiar with their work have to add.