In many developing countries the capability of the state to implement its policies and programs is a key constraint to improving human development. Many reform initiatives fail to achieve sustained improvements in performance because organizations pretend to reform by changing what policies and organizational structures look like rather than what they actually do.

The BSC faculty have developed Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA), a process of facilitated emergence which focuses on problems (not solutions) and follows a step by step process (not a rigid plan) that allows for flexible learning and adaptation.

  • The problem construction and deconstruction process in PDIA: mobilizes local talent, fosters broader conversations, engages authorizers and contextualizes policy.
  • The iterative experimentation, structured learning and adaptation in PDIA: empowers action by local people, facilitates emergence of local solutions and creates new capabilities to solve problems.

Essentially, PDIA is a learning by doing approach that helps organizations develop the capability to solve complex problems while they are actually solving such problems.

The PDIA approach rests on four principles:

Local Solutions for Local Problems
Transitioning from promoting predetermined solutions to allowing the local nomination, articulation, and prioritization of concrete problems to be solved.
Pushing Problem Driven Positive Deviance
Creating (and protecting) environments within and across organizations that encourage experimentation and positive deviance.
Try, Learn, Iterate, Adapt
Promoting active experiential (and experimental) learning with evidence-driven feedback built into regular management that allows for real-time adaptation.
Scale through Diffusion
Engaging multiple agents across sectors and organizations to ensure reforms are viable, legitimate and relevant.

PDIA Process

PDIA Flow Chart

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 process 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)