Evidence for the Effectiveness of a Process Approach

Question

Review the evidence on the effectiveness of development initiatives that have employed a process approach, or key features of this approach.

Summary

This report examines effectiveness of development initiatives that have employed a ‘process approach’ or key features of this approach. This report examines the wider literature on the process approach, looking more broadly at the evidence for the effectiveness of this approach in a variety of development interventions. Section two assesses the evidence on the effectiveness of programmes that have applied most or all of the components of the process approach. The studies reviewed in this section generally highlight an association between applying the process approach and improved organisational and developmental outcomes. Most of these studies, however, do not closely interrogate the link between the process approach and development effectiveness – the majority primarily serve an illustrative function by highlighting how features of the process approach can lead to improved outcomes. The studies also highlight a number of political and institutional barriers to implementing the process approach effectively.

One important area of development programming where programmes tend to apply several key features of the process is community-driven development (CDD) or community-based development (CBD). Section three assesses the literature on the effectiveness of CDD and CBD programmes and finds the evidence to be mixed.

Section four examines an important tension associated with the process approach. Although starting small and scaling up on the basis of better understanding and evidence is desirable, strong political imperatives for quick and large-scale action often remain, particularly in fragile or conflict-affected contexts. This raises the question how useful a process type approach is in these contexts. The literature suggests that there are no general rules about how best to overcome this tension and that while more incremental approaches are preferable, they may not always be feasible.

Section five provides a brief overview of literature that focuses on individual dimensions of the process approach, assessing three key aspects – scaling up; incremental approaches to capacity building; understanding the political environment; and innovation, risk and experimentation. The literature on scaling up and incremental capacity building provides some evidence that approaches which employ some of the key features of the process approach tend to be most successful.

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