Are Result-Based and Adaptive Management Two Different Things? Interrogating the Ways Forward for Development Cooperation (Academic Panel)

Development studies and development cooperation are characterised by a tension between the need for planning and demonstrating the results of development cooperation and the need for adapting development cooperation flexibly to changing situations. Historically, discussions on development cooperation have been largely influenced by two competing schools of thought, the “results and evidence narrative” and the “adaptive development narrative”. The results and evidence narrative follows the tradition of new public management and the idea that performance mechanisms from the private sector can be applied to the public sector. This thinking is characterised by the notion that performance and results can be measured and planned from start to finish within a finite period of time. The second school of thought on “adaptive development”, however, does not believe that development can be planned or managed in a linear sense, but rather that development emerges in a dynamic manner through the interaction of various stakeholders, located both within and beyond the scope of development interventions.
Both schools of thought would largely agree that no one particular model or approach will lead to results and that to a degree the two strands can be considered a false dichotomy, but that ultimately context specific factors and the ability to confront emerging development challenges are decisive capabilities for effective cooperation. Still, both schools of thought are based on different theoretical foundations, place different emphasis on how development cooperation should be organised and lead to diverging recommendations on how to use foreign aid. Current academic debates on development cooperation can be understood as being influenced by these two competing schools of thought, and also in the policy making domains both schools of thought have influenced discourse and practices. The introduction of results-based approaches on the one hand and adaptive programming on the other hand has promoted a proliferation of aid modalities into different directions.
In a context where globalisation is at the crossroads and moves ahead at different speeds while generating new (dis)content and (in)equalities, development cooperation as a major form of engagement between countries takes on various forms across countries at different levels of income. For instance, development cooperation can be used as a driver of globalisation through improving development outcomes in poorer countries or as a buffer instrument to mitigate adverse effects of globalisation, be it within individual countries or at the international level. Repositioning development cooperation in this context will require a deeper understanding of the underlying tension between results and adaptation.

In order to understand the evolution of the results and adaptive development discourse as well as its translation into policy making the panel explores the extent of divergence of convergence between these schools of thought. An added emphasis will be placed on political theories that can be used to highlight limitations and potentials of the two schools of thought. In particular sensitivity to the political environment that results-based or adaptive development cooperation modalities are being implemented in is one avenue of Exploration.

Against the background described above, the academic panel will address the following research questions:

  • What is the history of the results idea in comparison to the adaptation idea in development cooperation?
  • What is the current debate on the results-based and adaptive development cooperation?
  • What theoretical framework can be applied to understanding results and adaptation in development cooperation?
  • To what extent can existing and emerging donor practices be described by one or the other school of thought?
  • To what extent have developing country governments taken the initiative in opting for more results-based or adaptive development cooperation and what benefits have different interventions led to?
  • How does results-based or adaptive development cooperation interact with the politics of development cooperation?
  • How would institutions and organisations need to change to become more results-based or more adaptive?


Paper 1
“Results-based approaches and adaptation”
Heiner Janus, DIE, researcher

Paper 2
“Towards an Alternative Development Management Paradigm?”
Cathy Shutt, University of Sussex (tbc)

Paper 3
“When unintended effects are intended: implications of ‘mutual interest’ development policies for international development studies”
Niels Keijzer, DIE, researcher

Janet Vähämäki. PhD researcher, School of Business, Stockholm university (tbc)

Dr. Paul Clist, Lecturer in Development Economics in the School of International Development, University of East Anglia (tbc)
Dr. Sarah Holzapfel, German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE), researcher
Niels Keijzer, DIE, researcher

Heiner Janus, Researcher at German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE), PhD Candidate at Global Development Institute, University of Manchester
Dr. Sarah Holzapfel, DIE, researcher
Niels Keijzer, DIE, researcher