What Makes Syntegral Distinctive?
Increasingly, adaptation, adaptive management and scale-up are topics of wide interest in business, development and public health. Good guidance on these and cognate areas (e.g., real-time monitoring) can be found in many places. As suggested in our approach and the logic underlying it, Syntegral draws extensively on this literature to develop a client’s adaptation agenda. Nevertheless, there are some critical areas in which Syntegral is distinctive.
Focus on adaptive capacity
Perhaps the most fundamentally distinctive aspect of Syntegral is our focus on strengthening adaptive capacity. The literature on adaptive management consistently places learning at its center. The idea that learning and the ongoing input of new information/feedback propels adaption is, in fact, baked into most definitions of the term. Typically, advocates of adaptive management offer the theoretical rationale for the centrality of learning and/or classify the types of information needed for learning and the kinds of adaptive practices that are dependent on such learning. Ironically, in all this the learner is often marginalized; his or her capacity to apply informational inputs is either assumed or otherwise inconsequential. Syntegral’s commitment to learner-centeredness leads us to not only emphasize cognition and problem-solving but also language behaviors that contribute to knowledge negotiation and understanding. Ultimately, this is the adaptive capacity that makes adaptive management and sustainable scale-up possible.
Subscribing to scale-up processes and adaptive management principles is important, but ultimately rests on the ability of staff to genuinely partner with supervisors and administrators to ground these processes and principles in everyday practice.
Focus on including frontline workers
Too often, in our view, adaptive thinking and associated tools are the put solely in the hands of middle and upper-level managers. Syntegral has observed that frontline implementers are not typically seen as partners. While there is an ethical dimension to this exclusion, we would argue more pragmatically that failure pull frontline personnel into adaptive practice is “leaving money on the table.” In the developing world, where administrative talent is highly mobile, sustainability and resilience depend on adaptive skills and behaviors being distributed throughout an organization. The frontline serves as the eyes and ears of most interventions, but they also form a large part of the intervention’s brain. Adaptive managers need to count on frontline implementers not just to follow the marching orders, but to genuinely act as partners in identifying threats to the workplan as currently understood and generating contextually viable solutions.
Focus on the importance of creating shared understanding
Scratch most management practices—even practices claiming to support adaptation or scale up—and you quickly encounter the Machine Myth: if you build a project with the right policies, the right workplan, the right people with the right knowledge and skills and an adequate budget, you can set the Machine in motion and watch it perform. But the Machine Myth doesn't account for the fact that programs and activities are the product of ongoing dialogue and human interaction. Dialogue, interpretation and the negotiation of knowledge (i.e., reaching consensus on priorities and what the data show) shape project implementation on a daily basis. Syntegral’s emphasis on the interpretive dimension of complexity means that we work to strengthen communication behaviors that directly contribute to everyone’s adaptive capacity.