The Swedish Development Researchers Network (SweDev) and SEI’s Development and Aid Policy Team (DAPT) is announcing an opportunity for development practitioners to show interest in the Programme Life Cycle Support. The purpose of this capacity is to apply frontier development research thinking in partnership with the stakeholders and actors involved in the construction and delivery of development policymaking. By embedding researchers into the design, deployment and subsequent ongoing learning and analysis within the project lifecycle, the facility can provide a rapid and precise targeted utility for project partners to draw on throughout the different phases of its operation.
One of the expressed needs and wishes from development practitioners has been to enable the development research community to apply its knowledge and expertise more directly to the implementation of development programming, in the testing and validating hypothesises during project design, and in the analysis and construction of programme theories of change (Ioannou and Vähämäki, 2021). In response, SweDev and DAPT have launched the Programme Life Cycle Support.
The suggested research approach in the programme is defined as being something in between “action research” (research that seeks transformative change through the simultaneous process of taking action and doing research, which are linked together by critical reflection) and “on-going evaluation” (följeforskning), an approach in which the researcher from a more objective standpoint follows the project throughout its whole life cycle.
Coordination and leadership
DAPT functions as the coordinating and leadership “node” for the life-cycle support facility and draws on a five-year foundational collaboration conducted within SEI that has focused on developing an integrated theory, research and support function for development programming. Since most development problems are complex in nature, the group has combined inter- and transdisciplinary approaches and design thinking to provide efficient and effective programme guidance operations to these multidimensional objectives (Lambe et al. 2018; Osborne and Ran 2018; Del Rio et al. 2020; Bailis et al. 2020; Dehmel et al. 2021; Ioannou and Vähämäki 2021).
Depending on the specific needs of the development programmes or projects, the node would compose a team of researchers from DAPT supported by expert researchers within SweDev, development researchers from the Global South and other world leading international collaborators.
The facility provides support throughout the entire lifecycle of the development programme, including:
1. Inception and planning
- Support to the design of an intervention’s theory of change (ToC) and hypothesis development
At this step, we already provide support to develop an iterative way of working that is well anchored in a ToC approach and which allows key actors to provide input on the problem framing at an early stage of project/programme design. A commonly declared problem in project evaluations is that they were not made evaluable during the planning phase. The idea is here to support the programmes during the planning phase – in order to guide future impact assessment during follow-up and evaluation by the end of the cycle. Quickly bringing together a curated literature of relevant examples that can used to guide programme development and its underpinning theory.
- Support is offered on an integrated design methodology which combines qualitative, quantitative, and experimental components to support project interventions. If required, elements of a project/programme can be quickly prototyped and tested to ensure robustness.
Through a structured process of knowledge co-creation with all project partners – including funders, programme managers, governmental and non-governmental actors, communities and civil society representatives – the methodology can be used to develop a systems level understanding of how various actors and institutions interact and how their roles, capacities and resources can best be utilised to develop appropriate intervention strategies and actions. This wider system understanding can help to identify potential problems at an early stage and can support adaptive programme design. Facilitate the communication and mobilisation of different actors within the system to support the programmes aims, objectives and operations so as to increase efficiency, reduce transaction costs and ensure against unforeseen problems.
2. Implementation and follow-up
- Support in monitoring, learning and impact evaluation
This is conducted based on the system level understanding and includes understanding of impact and learning from a multitude of key actors associated with the intervention/programme.
- Develop and perform diagnostic functions
Conducted in an iterative way throughout the implementation period so that interventions can quickly be adapted based on the emerging evidence of impact.
- Promote the successes and lessons learned from the programme to the widest practitioner and research audience
- Analyse the viability of programming scaling and provide insight on how this can most effectively be delivered.
3. Evaluation and iteration
- Support in monitoring, learning and impact evaluation
The composition and role that any research support will take will develop as a product of discussion with the primary project partners. Support can have a duration of a month or two (systems mapping). However, the larger innovation in what we are proposing here is that researchers would be “embedded” in programmes over a much longer period to understand the core implementation issues and contexts (including politics, roles and culture) to enable maximum impact and facilitate future programme scaling.
For further information, please contact:
Matthew Osborne, Research Fellow, SEI
Fiona Lambe, Co-leader, SEI Initiative on Behaviour and Choice, SEI
Janet Vähämäki, Director of the Swedish Development Research Network and Team Lead of the SEI Development and Aid Policy Team