Adaptive Management


Abt Associates is a leader in adaptive management, helping programs determine the most efficient and effective way to achieve their objectives.

Our specialists help clients achieve their objectives by using traditional and innovative monitoring and evaluation methods to provide key information frequently and consistently from the start of projects. Through evidence-based interventions we inform iterative decision-making while assessing if the iterative approach itself is working.

Adaptive management addresses complexity in program and policy environments. It recognizes that, in complex settings, an overall program goal may be clear but the pathway to achieving it often is not fixed because it has not been tested, because it is contingent upon context, or both. Abt helps clients navigate that complexity and improve program performance to deliver the greatest impact possible.



Abt uses a diverse set of tools to support adaptive management, including:

  • Rapid cycle evaluation (RCE) to compare various intervention options and determine which can best achieve program goals;

  • Developmental evaluation, which is conducted by an Abt evaluator who is “embedded” within the program to undertake research and contribute learning based on emerging needs; and

  • Collaborating, learning, and adapting (CLA) approaches, which we use to incorporate routine reflection and evidence-driven decision making into program implementation.

These approaches allow us to be creative and tailor research to a given project’s needs.


Relevant Expertise

Social and Behavior Change (SBC) Campaign for Family Care First Cambodia Initiative

Client: United States Agency for International Development (USAID)

Abt is part of a consortium that developed and is now implementing the Rapid Feedback Monitoring, Evaluation, Research, and Learning (RF MERL) protoc`ol for USAID. RF MERL transforms traditional evaluation methods from summative accountability tools into ongoing evaluative tools that provide rigorous, early results that capture what is working in a project to allow for adaptive management. It does this through short-duration impact evaluations that compare multiple cutting-edge solutions with the same intended outcomes, determining early on which are most effective, to allow those activities to be scaled-up within program cycles.

Abt is currently leading the first pilot under this mechanism, working with a project in Cambodia that is focused on reducing unnecessary child-family separation. In Cambodia, parents will sometimes give up rights to their children, sending them to live in orphanages because they believe their children will receive a better education or quality of care in an orphanage than at home. Children are also often recruited to the orphanages due to high demand from people from more developed countries who give charitable donations to orphanages However, research shows that children who grow up in these orphanages often have developmental issues because they don’t receive the love and care they would if they were home with their families.

Abt is helping USAID and its implementing partners to determine the best behavior change marketing campaign messages and modes of delivery to reach donors and change donor behavior toward orphanages, as well as to convince Cambodian families not to send their children to orphanages, where they often don’t receive the love and care they need and would receive at home. Following this work, USAID and its suppliers will know how best to scale-up their interventions and reduce unnecessary child–family separation.


Feasibility and Effectiveness of mHealth for Mobilizing Households for Indoor Residual Spraying to Prevent Malaria: A Case Study in Mali

Client: United States Agency for International Development (USAID)

For USAID’s Africa Indoor Residual Spraying (AIRS) project, Abt used an RCE in Mali to test whether mobilizing recipients of anti-malaria insecticide spraying to prepare for treatment by mobile phone-based messages could provide a successful alternative to using door-to-door mobilization. To answer this question, Abt used a quasi-experimental design to evaluate home preparedness in villages where beneficiaries were mobilized through text messages compared with villages that were prepared for spray through door-to-door mobilization. The RCE found that the mobile phone-based option was both less effective and more costly per structure than the traditional door-to-door approach. Thus, Abt continued to mobilize using door-to-door methods.


Investing in Women Initiative Monitoring and Evaluation for Adaptive Management

Client: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)

Abt Associate’s Investing in Women Initiative (IW) is an AUD 44 million Australian Government flagship program that seeks to ensure women across Southeast Asia are empowered to make their own economic decisions. Abt has developed a rigorous monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) system to: assess whether the project’s results are meeting expectations, improve project performance by providing contextual insights about the barriers to and opportunities for women’s economic empowerment, and build the evidence base to gain private sector and government buy in to the importance of women’s economic empowerment. Abt’s MEL framework tracks a range of complex and transformative change processes using:

  • Comparative organizational case studies

  • Rapid cycle evaluation

  • Electronic market and public knowledge, attitude, perceptions, and behavioral surveys and nano-surveys

Abt is using the tools of process tracing and qualitative comparative analysis to determine the factors contribute to outcomes.

Contact Us

Headshot_Kathry Stillman

Kate Stillman

Senior Associate/Scientist
International Development Division
Rockville, MD
(301) 968-4498

Headshot_Fiona Mactaggart

Fiona Mactaggart

Senior MERL Specialist
London, UK
+61 (7) 3114 4661

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