Document Type

Open Access Capstone

Publication Date



Over the past 15 years, the international development field has increasingly emphasized the need to improve aid effectiveness. While there have been many gains as a result of this emphasis, many critique the mechanisms that have emerged to enhance aid effectiveness, particularly claiming that they inappropriately force adherence to predefined plans and hold programs accountable for activities and outputs, not outcomes. However, with growing acceptance of the complexity of development challenges, different ways to design, manage, and evaluate projects are beginning to take hold that better reflect this reality.

Many development practitioners explain that Developmental Evaluation (DE) and Adaptive Management (AM) offer alternatives to traditional management and monitoring and evaluation approaches that are better suited to address complex challenges. Both DE and AM are approaches for rapidly and systematically collecting data for the purpose of adapting projects in the face of complexity. There are many advocates for the use of DE and AM in complex development contexts, as well as some case studies on how these approaches are being applied.

This study aims to build on existing literature that provides examples of how DE and AM are being customized to address complex development challenges by describing and analyzing how one non-governmental organization, Catalytic Communities (CatComm), working in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, uses DE for Managing Adaptively, a term we have used to name their approach to management and evaluation. Drawing upon and integrating literature about DE and AM, I describe eight interdependent elements of CatComm’s approach to management and evaluation, which emerged organically over the course of their 17-year history and which CatComm and I retroactively discovered embodies the eight Principles of DE, as well as aspects of Adaptive Management, providing examples of each element in practice. Furthermore, I identify factors that enable and inhibit CatComm’s approach. Finally, I relate these findings to the literature on DE, AM, and related approaches in complex development contexts, and I discuss these findings in regards to the larger conclusions that may be of interests to organizations, funders, and scholars in the development field.