Humanitarian and development crises are increasingly protracted and complex, lacking clear solutions and paths to reach the most-affected individuals and communities. Those working in such crises must be creative, adaptive, and supported by frameworks that promote efficient and effective responses. Adaptive management is a learning-oriented project management approach that centralizes proactive and ongoing reflection on what is and is not working, adapting the program design or operational delivery based on this new information. This approach is being implemented by a five-year program—Refugees in East Africa: Boosting Urban Innovations for Livelihoods (Re:Build)—aiming to achieve economic self-reliance for urban refugees and other vulnerable residents of Kampala, Uganda and Nairobi, Kenya. The evidence for how to best support refugee economic self-reliance is limited; even less is known about what is effective for urban refugees specifically. Re:Build is utilizing adaptive management principles to navigate this uncertainty with the goal of achieving sustained outcomes for clients and more information about what works. While adaptive management offers a range of potential benefits, it requires implementers and donors to operate in new ways. After summarizing the existing adaptive management literature, this paper outlines lessons from the first two years of Re:Build’s attempts to implement an adaptive program. It concludes by sharing practical recommendations, for both implementers and donors, on how to better live out these principles.
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