Managing Official Development Assistance (ODA) in an emergency context: how data-driven adaptive management can support the COVID-19 response

ODA interventions must have rapid learning and feedback mechanisms in place to inform change, argues PA Consulting
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Governments in low- and middle-income countries – such as many across Africa, Asia and Latin America – are facing difficult decisions on how to absorb the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and protect the most vulnerable groups within their societies. The crisis also risks undermining the effectiveness of donor government interventions delivering Official Development Assistance (ODA) in these countries. It has demanded extraordinary flexibility from ODA programmes to adapt their activities while retaining focus on the results interventions are delivering.

To support the global economic recovery, donor governments must apply data-driven adaptive management principles and techniques to make evidence-based changes to ODA portfolios and monitor their impact. Adaptive management doesn’t mean changing goals during implementation. It’s an intentional approach to making decisions and adjustments in response to new information and changes in context, and adapting in response to complex unforeseen challenges.

In times of crisis we must turn to data, and use it to address complexity.

ODA interventions must have rapid learning and feedback mechanisms in place to inform change. A flexible implementation model will support ‘on the ground’ decision making. The image below details the US Agency for International Development’s programme cycle, the interrelation of strategic planning, intervention design and monitoring & evaluation of ODA activities, and the importance of adapting and learning to delivering results.

In times of crisis we must turn to data, and use it to address complexity.

We’ve identified three ways ODA donors can use data-driven adaptive management to support the COVID-19 response:

1. Use indicators to build a results story, measure ongoing success, and plan for different scenarios

ODA programmes use a range of indicators to measure and track the results and success of their activities. They should incorporate new indicators to reflect adjustments to activities in response to a crisis like COVID-19. Programme dashboards and reports should provide a comprehensive view of technical (delivery of activities against agreed milestones), financial (expenditure against budget forecast) and contractual (service levels, performance, compliance) data. These metrics are simple to track and usually part of delivery partners’ contractual obligations.

The right indicators, measured accurately, can also unleash the power of scenario planning. ‘What-if’ analysis can be a powerful tool in an uncertain context – with predictive analytics able to anticipate issues and understand the potential impact of changes. We’ve used this approach to help organisations plan for high-impact risks, such as key stakeholders or delivery teams being infected with COVID-19, to map out the consequences for programmes and ensure appropriate business continuity measures are in place. This can be applied from a number of perspectives: technical, financial and contractual, for instance.

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