Syntegral has developed several distinctive tools that increase understanding of complexity and adaptation while scaffolding new adaptive behaviors. Every tool has been developed using the Landscape/Temporal/Interpretive lens to help make complexity more manageable. They contribute to adaptive capacity by emphasizing applied understanding rather than just adopting new vocabulary and formulas.
Context of Implementation Analysis (COIA)
A COIA analysis is used retrospectively to uncover the complex and adaptive circumstances in which a “model” intervention was undertaken. By understanding this context of implementation and adaptation, implementing staff and other stakeholders can better understand how the intervention was shaped by landscape, temporal and interpretative (LTI) variables. The outcome of a COIA analysis can then be used prospectively to assist implementers of the intervention anticipate adaptive challenges and opportunities.
Implementers of a “best practice” that is being scaled typically aim for “fidelity.” A COIA analysis reveals how strict fidelity (i.e., replication) is impossible and why we have to understand any contextually relevant intervention as a result of adaptation. This strengthens individual and organizational adaptive capacity not only for the present project but for future projects as well.
Frontline Aggregated Monitoring and Evaluation (FrAME)
Use of real-time data (RTD) is a common element of most adaptive management approaches. Syntegral’s FrAME is an approach to RTD that uses local telecommunication systems to collect, aggregate and graphically express the results of rapid and frequent implementer assessments of how a program or activity is performing in terms of several contextual elements relevant to the program or activity. Expressed longitudinally and graphically, the aggregated RTD will highlight trends in implementer perceptions of performance in terms of contextual variables and provide a basis for managers and implementers to review target data/indicators and dialogue about trends seen in the different aspects of implementation. On the basis of this dialogue, adaptive managers can adjust workplans and timelines in a way that keeps frontline implementers on board.
What Could Possibly Go Wrong?: A Game of Complexity and Context
The purpose of the WCPGW? game is to introduce implementers of “best practices” to a vocabulary and a broad conceptual framework for identifying adaptation and scale-up challenges that were faced in past projects or may be faced in future projects. The game does not promote a specific scale-up methodology but rather provides the foundation on which any scale-up or adaptation methodologies can more effectively be taught and applied. As with most Syntegral tools, WCPGW? reinforces thinking and shared understanding through structured dialogue using implementers’ existing knowledge.
Many have noted the importance of learning for adaptation; purposeful adaptation, in fact, is always prompted by the uncovering of new findings or the reassessment of current information. In some cases, this learning prompts small tweaks in implementers’ understanding of established variables. In others, however, the learning encourages a more significant reevaluation of the assumptions, values and beliefs underlying the project’s “theory of change.” Chris Argyris has called this “double-loop” learning. Second Loop helps implementers establish a simple, baseline theory of change (if a formal theory has not already been set out) and then periodically asks them to reassess the adequacy of the theory as new information and evidence comes to light. Second Loop is not a substitute for a technical theory of change designed by project researchers or evaluators but ensures that key findings from ongoing implementation are fed into working knowledge throughout a program.
Syntegral is distinctive in our focus on interpersonal differences in understanding and interpretation that add an enormous dimension to complexity. For this reason, we use a suite of tools—most of which have been proven successful in the field of management for years—to get individuals, teams and units on the “same page.” Component skills include techniques for asking for clarification at the right time, positive questioning/assertion of alternative interpretations of the evidence, critical reading of reports, strategic documentation skills, etc. Tools we use as part of our Same Page approach reinforce what are sometimes called “Rogerian” principles to ensure that common types of miscommunication and presumptions are anticipated and avoided or at least negotiated. With better skills in negotiating a common understanding, the need for, and response to, adaptation becomes clearer and more efficiently communicated throughout the implementation.
Like other tools developed by Syntegral, Problem Space is designed as a problem-based participatory learning activity that makes visible many adaptive processes that typically go undetected or unremarked. Chief among these is gathering consensus on what elements are “core” and which are “peripheral” in an implementation. The individual-then-group activity connects core elements and structures their interdependence. Problem Space can be used to reflect the dynamism in a theory or change as well as a way of stimulating dialogue and knowledge-sharing among implementers to bring the best available information into the decision-making process.