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What is PDIA?

Many reform initiatives fail to achieve sustained improvements in performance because organizations use mimicry to camouflage the absence of real change. That is, they pretend to reform by changing what policies and organizational structures look like rather than what they actually do. As long as the eco-systems in which state organizations live, reward mimicry over functionality, then capability traps can persist, even when organizations remain engaged in the typical developmental rhetoric and tactics of "policy reform," "training" and "capacity building." Moreover, many best-practice agendas bring solutions that exclude local agents from the process of building their own states, implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) undermining the value-creating ideas of local leaders and front line workers.

To help escape capability traps, the Building State Capability program at CID is exploring the potential of a Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) approach. PDIA rests on four core principles:

Local Solutions for Local Problems
Transitioning from promoting solutions (pre-determined by external experts) to allowing the local nomination and articulation of concrete problems to be solved.

Pushing Problem Driven Positive Deviance
Creating environments within and across organizations that encourage experimentation and positive deviance, accompanied by enhanced accountability for performance in problem solving.

Try, Learn, Iterate, Adapt
Promoting active experiential (and experimental) learning with evidence-driven feedback built into regular management and project decision making, in ways that allow for real-time adaptation.

Scale through Diffusion
Engaging champions across sectors and organizations who ensure reforms are viable, legitimate and relevant.

The table below from our research highlights how PDIA differs from standard approaches.

Table 1: Contrasting current approaches and PDIA
Elements of Approach Mainstream Development
Projects/Policies/Programs
Problem Driven Iterative Adaption
What drives action? Externally nominated problems or 'solutions' in which deviation from 'best practices' forms is itself defined as the problem Locally Problem Driven - looking to solve particular problems
Planning for action? Lots of advance planning, articulating a plan of action, with implementation regarded as following the planned script 'Muddling through' with the authorization of positive deviance and a purposive crawl of the available design space
Feedback loops Monitoring (short loops, focused on disbursement and proces compliance) and Evalulation (long feedback loop on outputs, maybe outcomes) Tight feedback loops based on the problem and experimentation with information loops integrated with decisions
Plans for scaling up
and diffusion of learning
Top-down - the head learns and leads, the rest listen and follow Diffusion of feasible practice across organizations and communities of practitioners
Source: Escaping Capability Traps through Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA)