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Chapter 3 Tools and approaches

Design and management


This section presents four design and management approaches for complex and fast- changing environments: adaptive management; collaborating, learning and adapting (CLA); action planning; and human-centred design, design thinking and user journeys. This section combines design and management because the tools used in design, such as logframes, invariably become management tools as well.

This section is closely aligned to the previous sections on assessments and response analysis. Without due attention to these prior activities, project design and its eventual management is unlikely to succeed. It is also closely associated with the following section on monitoring and evaluation (for example where tools such as adaptive management are also applicable). It also links to the section on area-based approaches (ABAs), which use some of the approaches discussed here.

3.9.1 Logframes

The logframe analysis tool (and its variants across agencies and donors) remains the ‘industry standard’ for  aid  programme  design  and  management.  Logframes provide: a clear project focus (the purpose); clear accountability (the indicators); and a test of potential project risks (the assumptions). When used well, logframes can be helpful tools for collaborative design (for example organising a stakeholder workshop to formulate a jointly-owned project). They also build in accountability. However, their use in urban areas can be limited for a variety of reasons, including:

  • As a rigid design and management tool, they can be difficult to amend (especially if the logframe has formed part of a contract, as it often does).
  • Outputs are usually predetermined, and may take little or no account of project iterations or changes in conditions.
  • They risk reinforcing a single-sector focus, especially if one sector dominates the purpose statement
  • Indicators may measure inputs and not outputs. For example, counting the number of houses built does not indicate quality, affordability or appropriateness
  • They focus on short-term outputs, with little if any consideration of longer-term outcomes or impact.

A detailed critique of project management tools and approaches is provided in A. Obrecht with  S.  Bourne,  Making Humanitarian   Response   More   Flexible,   ALNAP   Background Paper (London: ALNAP/ODI, 2018) (

In reaction to this, a number of design and management tools that suit urban humanitarian settings are being piloted and used. Some of these are described below.

3.9.2 Design and management tools that adapt to changing urban environments

Previous sections of this GPR have underscored the complexity of cities, where any engagement needs to be flexible, iterative and open-ended, working in areas that are fast- changing with high degrees of uncertainty and dynamic change. Given logframes have their limitations in this area, other urban- and complexity-oriented tools exist. Four of these, which have evolved from and/or have application to the uncertainties and complexities of urban programming, are presented here.

  1. Adaptive management

Adaptive management is ‘a programming approach that combines appropriate analysis, structured flexibility, and iterative improvements in the face of contextual and causal complexity’.+R. Chambers and B. Ramalingam, Adapting Aid: Lessons from Six Case Studies, IRC and Mercy Corps, 2016 (, p. 2. Work in this area is being undertaken by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Mercy Corps, which have set up an approach called ADAPT (Analysis Driven Agile Programming Techniques) to develop tools that work in complex and fast- changing environments.

In recent research across programmes in six locations,+In Africa, the Middle East and Asia. The studies were not specifically on urban areas, though they do relate to complex and dynamic humanitarian situations, hence their relevance to this review. See Chambers and Ramalingam, Adapting Aid. emerging lessons included the need for the following:

  • Appropriate data and reflective analysis, for example through having many data sources and the ability to analyse incoming information, with the time for reflection
  • Responsive decision-making and action, linked closely to context analysis and assessments, with decisions taken as closely to operational realities as possible
  • Dynamic and collaborative teams, building in mentorship and collaborative app- roaches and hiring people who are adaptable and flexible
  • Agile and integrated operations, linking functions such as human resources, finance and procurement
  • Trusting and flexible partnerships, flexible budgets and flexibility in organisational activities.

Figure 3.12 The adaptiveness cycle

Source: A. Obrecht with S. Bourne, Making Humanitarian Response More Flexible, ALNAP Background Paper (London: ALNAP/ODI, 2018) (, p. 42


ALNAP’s work on organisational flexibility+A. Obrecht with S. Bourne, Making Humanitarian Response More Flexible, ALNAP Background Paper (London: ALNAP/ODI, 2018) ( describes three components of adaptive capabilities in humanitarian settings: knowing when to change, including timing and motivation; deciding what the change is; and implementing the change through changing/ adapting plans and mobilising resources. Figure 3.12 identifies these three components in the context of the project management cycle, referred to in the research as ‘the adaptiveness cycle’.

Further useful sources of information on adaptive management include:

The Humanitarian Innovation Guide produced by the Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF). The guide can be found at

For examples on the application of adaptive management, see R. Chambers and B. Ramalingam, Adapting Aid: Lessons from Six Case Studies, IRC and Mercy Corps, 2016 (

For further discussion on adaptive management throughout the project management cycle, see H. Desai, G. Maneo and E. Pellfolk, Managing to Adapt: Analysing Adaptive Management for Planning, Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning (Oxford: Oxfam, 2018) (

  1. Collaborating, learning and adapting

The collaborating, learning and adapting (CLA) approach provides tools to support iterative learning leading to modifications and improvements during the life of a project. Three key elements of CLA are:

  • Connect CLA tools to activities, to track the progress of a project
  • Do analysis quickly, to enable adjustments to project activities that may need changing
  • Share information and findings with stakeholders as they emerge

Box 3.14 Building in flexibility in human resources and finance functions

Adaptive management, action planning and CLA require flexible internal systems within organisations. Research on the use of these approaches in managing area-based programmes found three key requirements. The first was that the internal systems of agencies, such as human resources (HR) and finance, need to be aligned to the flexible and iterative nature of the approach. One way to achieve this is to involve HR and finance staff at the earliest stages of the design of an ABA, which can help support services function more smoothly in the subsequent implementation of the programme. The second requirement was for HR functions to be more flexible: job descriptions may need to be written to be open-ended, which may require post-holders to apply skills beyond those in which they may have been formally trained. The third requirement was that staff profiles would be closer to a combination of social entrepreneur, negotiator and networker, rather than, say, engineer, house-builder or logistician (while recognising that technical skills such as these are essential).

Source: D. Sanderson, ‘Implementing Area-based Approaches  (ABAs)  in  Urban  Post-disaster  Contexts’,  Environment and Urbanization 29(2), October 2017 (

For more information on CLA, see

Building flexibility into programme management is discussed in the example in Box 3.14.

  1. Action planning

Action planning+N. Hamdi and R. Goethert, Action Planning for Cities: A Guide to Community Practice (Rugby: IT Publications, 1997). is a project design and management approach that relies on neighbourhood-level participation and consensus-building. Its nine characteristics are:

  1. Problem-based and opportunity-driven, to give clarity on actions to be undertaken
  1. Based on achievable actions, to build confidence that recovery can take place
  1. Reliant on local knowledge and skills, emphasising local ownership
  1. Non-reliant on complete information, using the principle of ‘optimal ignorance’ to avoid the notion that everything needs to be known before anything can happen
  1. Small in scale and neighbourhood-based, in order to instill neighbourhood-level ownership.
  1. Embraces serendipity, g. chance encounters that lead to the forging of local connections.
  1. Actions are incremental rather than comprehensive – this is particularly important given the short funding cycles often associated with post-disaster recovery
  1. Starting points rather than end states, reflecting the complexity of urban programming, where initially envisaged approaches may not be appropriate as the project progresses
  1. Visible, tangible outputs, to encourage engagement and replication elsewhere

An extensive description of tools and approaches to implementing action planning can be found in N. Hamdi and R. Goethert, Action Planning for Cities: A Guide to Community Practice (Rugby: IT Publications, 1997).

A database of other process-oriented, people-centred design tools can be found at

  1. Human-centred design, design thinking and user journeys

Human-centred design+For further information, see A. Wells, Design for Humanity Report, 2018 ( means collaborating with people in need to design spaces, projects and policies that benefit them directly. This approach (which has been around for a number of years within the design community) recently gained attention with the first ‘Design for Humanity Summit’ in 2018, which aimed to inspire humanitarians and designers to develop a humanitarian design charter by:

  • Amplifying the discourse on the role of design processes in humanitarian response
  • Integrating human-centred design processes into the norms of humanitarian action.
  • Building a coalition of humanitarians and designers to launch research and pilot projects

Human-centred design was used in Regent Park in Toronto, where a 69-acre public space is being redeveloped. Designers aimed to improve the lives of residents and 25,000 Syrian refugees in the area using a range of collaborative and consultative design processes.+R. Smyth, ‘Business of Home Feature: Designers are Collaborating with the UN on Humanitarian Initiatives’, Institute of Humanitarian Affairs, 2018 (

Design thinking, closely related to human-centred design, is ‘a collaborative tool that mixes empathy with systems design to develop more user-friendly human systems’.+C. Bennett et al., Constructive Deconstruction: Imagining Alternative Humanitarian Action (London: ODI, 2018) (, p. 1. While used in the design world for a number of years, with a track record of success, design thinking is little known in humanitarian circles.+See for example T. Brown, Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation (New York: HarperCollins, 2009). See also Design thinking was recently used in research to rethink humanitarian aid, where the aim was to ‘reimagin[e] what a more effective humanitarian system would look and act like if we truly “put people at the centre” and designed the system from the perspective of its users up and down the humanitarian value chain’.+Bennett et al., Constructive Deconstruction, p. 1.

User journeys are a related approach to design thinking which also use empathy as a tool for analysis. In a recent study of the use of cash in Kenya,+E. Sagmeister and M. Seilern, Kenya Case Study: Improving User Journeys for Humanitarian Cash Transfers (Vienna and London: Ground Truth Solutions and ODI, 2018) ( the user journeys ‘aim to expose the experience of receiving cash transfers from different standpoints. Actively empathising with participants enabled the research team to identify unmet and latent needs, as well as opportunities for change from the users themselves’. The study also used behaviour mapping and a survey of 264 respondents. The resulting data presents individuals’ ‘journeys’ and their positive and negative experiences of cash delivery mechanisms. This information is combined with more traditional statistical analysis and data presentation.

In summary, programme design and management in urban areas needs to be more flexible, iterative and adaptable in order to respond meaningfully to fast-changing, complex and interlinked environments. The above examples, many of which are relatively new to humanitarian aid, provide pointers as to how these approaches may evolve.