International Development Planning Review

Adaptive project management for the civil society sector: towards an academic research agenda

International Development Planning Review (2021), 43, (3), 393–418.


In order to react adequately to the complex, fast-changing and politicised environments in which development projects operate, donors have started adopting more adaptive project management approaches. Projects dealing with civil society actors in particular are said to benefit from adaptive management. As adaptive management largely depends on locally led and politically smart programming, it is presented as one avenue for addressing long-standing problems of civil society organisations, such as donor dependency, lack of legitimacy and accountability issues. However, the evidence base concerning the effects of adaptive management is scarce and rather anecdotal and an overarching definition of adaptive management has not been established. In order to work towards an academic research agenda for adaptive management, the article systematically reviews twenty-one case studies to generate insights into what donors and implementers consider as adaptive practices, their perceived effects, obstacles and derived recommendations. The article thus contributes to identifying which actors are driving the adaptive agenda, which practices are considered as adaptive, what we can learn from first pilot interventions and which research gaps can be derived from this analysis.

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Author details

Gutheil, Lena