On February 21st, 2018, the Locus Learning Work Group set out to answer a priority question on the Research Agenda for Integrated Development: What key criteria should determine when integration is the most appropriate approach in different contexts and scenarios?
Members convened for a workshop led by Learning Work Group Co-Chairs Matt Lineal of Nuru International and Sia Nowrojee of the 3D Program for Girls & Women at the UN Foundation. Through a process of personal reflection – and creative depictions of past experiences designing and implementing integrated programs in both development and emergency settings – we surfaced more questions than answers, but did arrive at a consensus: Different contexts and scenarios demand that we establish different sets of key criteria for assessing if integration is appropriate, who should decide, what should be integrated, and when that determination is made.
By definition, an integrated approach requires bringing people together to address an issue or respond to a need. The specific combination of people involved are the ones who determine the suite of resources at the table available to address it. But not all those resources – human capacity, technical expertise in different sectors, social capital, political will – may be necessary or helpful. So what criteria can people use to decide what sectors and resources to leverage to address a community issue?
Ultimately, the key criteria for determining what and when to integrate depend on the relative value stakeholders place on both assumed and emergent needs, risks, costs, and benefits of an intervention. These can be assessed throughout program planning, design and implementation.
Questions to Ask during Program Planning and Design
- Do we have a shared vision? Working across sectors is difficult and complex. Technical experts speak different languages. Without a shared vision and agreement on the outcome people are trying to achieve, things fall apart. As stakeholders come together around common and overlapping issues, it is important to ask not only if they hold a shared vision, but if they hold competing visions. Is a shared vision possible? If so, what is that North Star which keeps us on track?
- What are we willing to let go of? Different individuals and organizations will bring their own set of deeply-held values and favored approaches to the table, as well as their own incentives for being there. As the work required to achieve the shared vision is identified, some of those approaches will work, and others will not. Who is willing to step back and when?
- Are there resources to do this? While program design and implementation should not be driven by donor mandates, the reality is that without resources – either financial or technical – integration cannot be done. Some Locus members have donors that value an integrated approach. Others have creatively leveraged targeted resources, and still others have walked away when the right resources required to do the job weren’t available.
- What platforms exist or should be created to ensure accountability by stakeholders? Locus members shared stories of times the initial risks, costs and benefits of an intervention changed over the course of time. Ongoing evaluation of these, against the shared vision is key – and demands a platform for people to come together and re-assess.
Questions to Ask During Program Design and Implementation
- What technical skills exist in our platform-and what is needed vs. what is not? A clear inventory should be done of the technical skills within our platform. However, just because we CAN design an integrated intervention doesn’t mean we SHOULD. There is value in a focused, vertical program that works well. Adding other components without an understanding of how this contributes to a shared vision, and without adding additional resources if they are needed, could derail a well-functioning program.
- What are the political economy considerations in the context? Ongoing political economy analysis is a useful tool for re-assessing the risks, costs, benefits and anticipated return on the investment of an intervention. Interventions must consider how local power dynamics and political will shift as an intervention starts to change incentives within systems. In tandem, we should be thinking about our cost/benefit/risk analysis not only of the whole but of each component of the intervention.
- Do people have the incentives and the capacity to stay engaged in this process? A shared vision of success is key to reaching it. Collaborators across sectors need to recognize they have to let go of certain assumptions and approaches as needs emerge and fluid contexts change. Integrated, cross-sector work can stretch people in uncomfortable new directions and capacity building may be needed both to build necessary skills and demonstrate the utility of integration. At every stage of implementation, we need to revisit those incentives that keep different stakeholders engaged to see the process through until the vision is achieved.
 The Activity Guide and notes from the workshop are available here. Locus encourages organizations to use the guide and to send feedback to continue to build our understanding and help answer the question: What key criteria should determine when integration is the most appropriate approach in different contexts and scenarios?