Sandboxes, Stories, Gambles, and Change
June was a significant month for me, with plans for a leadership transition – my departure, by the end of the year, after eight years with Global Integrity – rolling into motion. You can find out more about the transition here, and find a job description and details of how to apply for the role of Executive Director, here. The selection panel is very keen to have a diverse pool of excellent candidates to choose from, so please do share news about the opportunity – an amazing opportunity to help shape and support a locally-led governance and anti-corruption agenda – far and wide!
An excellent session on how do we use M&E as a vehicle for learning?, facilitated by Søren Haldrup from UNDP’s Strategic Innovation Unit was one highlight of the month. The session featured stimulating presentations from Toby Lowe of the Centre for Public Impact, Munyema Hasan of the Open Government Partnership, and prolific blogger and defender of the adaptive turn Tom Aston, followed by rich discussions. The event was the first public outing for a UNDP-led M&E Sandbox initiative, which is a response to huge demand for collaborative efforts to experiment with innovative approaches to leveraging learning to address complex systemic challenges. The video is well worth a watch.
Another highlight was a rich conversation about using stories in evaluation. This session featured practical examples of the use of participatory narrative inquiry, and sensemaking approaches, to gather stories from multiple stakeholders involved in a particular initiative, and fully involve the storytellers in analyzing and making sense of the stories. Again, the video is well worth a watch. If that piques your interest, there’s more in this vein in the learning power of listening: a practical guide to sensemaker (co-authored by Steff Deprez, who also featured in the video), and in the Centre for Public Impact’s recent piece on Redefining rigour: using stories to evaluate systems change.
I also enjoyed and appreciated a discussion on what does it mean to lead in emergent + transformational ways?, facilitated by the Collective Change Lab. Featuring John Kania, Juanita Zerda and Cynthia Rayner – whose co-authored book on the systems work of social change was the top read in my November 2021 missive – the conversation explored issues of awareness, intentionality, power, relationships, rigor and reflection. It also introduced me to the work of Cyndi Suarez on personal, inter-personal, and systemic power, and liberatory leadership; see here for a great introduction to Cyndi’s powerful perspective. Oh, the Collective Change Lab’s next session, on July 20th, will explore the question: how can we tell stories of systems change that are more reflective of the way change happens? Count me in!
Also worth catching up on is the conversation between Owen Barder and Stefan Dercon – a former DFID Chief Economist and policy advisor to the UK’s Foreign Secretary – about Stefan’s recent book, Gambling on Development. The conversation goes deep, exploring how elite bargains amongst powerful players shape countries’ development prospects and whether and how well-meaning outsiders can – perhaps not primarily through aid – increase the chances of those powerful players choosing and crafting pathways forward that might deliver big, albeit often incremental, development wins. This pairs very nicely with Making Anti-Corruption Real, the synthesis report from our friends at SOAS-ACE. In this report, Mushtaq Khan and Pallavi Roy take a similar political settlements approach to identifying ways of addressing corruption and improving the delivery of public policy, which might be feasible given a system’s prevailing political economy dynamics.
Last, but not least, it was great to see the reflections on evidence-led adaptive programming from Sam Sharp, Nils Riemenschneider and Kerry Selvester. Meriting a full read, the short note from ODI and OPM draws on the experience of MUVA – a deliberately adaptive female economic empowerment program in Mozambique, that was funded by DFID/FCDO and now has a life of its own. As the authors note, establishing regular reflective practice as part of an adaptive program is difficult. Taking the extra, and hugely important, step of generating useful, timely and practical information to support those reflections, is even more so. However, with the momentum that is building around leveraging evidence-informed learning to address complex systemic issues – and the demand for innovation and experimentation in this sphere beginning to be met through initiatives such as UNDP’s M&E Sandbox – I’m hopeful that these sorts of challenges will increasingly be met.
Image Credit: Markus Spiske via Unsplash