Integrated Approaches: What do we know and where do we go?

By Brian Thomson
Everyone at the Global Environment Facility's 6th Assembly in Da Nang, Vietnam, is talking about integrated approaches; more can be done with the same resources, environmental interventions can and should have development co-benefits and vice versa. But is it really this simple?

In this IFAD led event on Integrated Approaches, along with its partners, a number of programme and project approaches and examples were featured. These included those with GEF funding, which are currently attempting to operationalize integration.

FAO's Thomas Hammond kicked off proceedings with a call for action.

"We need systems, we need things that are thinking across institutional boundaries and also across sectorial boundaries," said Hammond.

In response Annette Cowie, of the GEF's Science and Technical Advisory Panel (STAP), outlined a proposal to improve integration in the design of future GEF projects: 
  1. Apply systems thinking: i.e. address inter-connected environmental, social, economic, and governance challenges across sectors with an eye towards resilience and transformational change. 
  2. Develop a clear rationale and theory of change to tackle the drivers of environmental degradation through assessing assumptions and outlining causal pathways – and have a ‘Plan B’, should desired outcomes not materialize. 
  3. Assess the potential risks and vulnerabilities of the key components of the system, to measure its resilience to expected and unexpected shocks and changes, and the need for incremental adaptation or more fundamental transformational change. 
  4. Devise a logical sequence of interventions, which is responsive to changing circumstances and new learning (adaptive implementation pathways). Develop clear indicators that will be monitored to determine progress and success in achieving lasting outcomes. 
  5. Develop explicit plans and funding for good quality knowledge management including: sustainable databases; simple, useful and usable common indicators; face-to-face consultations; and building stakeholder capacity. This is essential for ‘lessons learned’, and scaling up. 
  6. Apply exemplary stakeholder engagement, including with local communities, not just government officials, from inception and design, through to project completion. This is crucial for identifying diverse needs and managing trade-offs. 
  7. Allow flexibility in project preparation to accommodate the additional transactions costs and time required to tackle complex issues through multi-agency teams. 
In reaction to these recommendations, the World Bank's Gayatri Kanungo agreed that we have to integrate but there are trade-offs that come as part of this integration.

"We should embrace adaptive management and not be afraid to take risks to adjust projects," said Kanungo. "We must insure there is flexibility in programming these projects with a very measurable theory of change that captures the smallest of innovations."

Meanwhile, IFAD's Eric Patrick, coordinator of the IFAD-led Global Environment Facility funded Integrated Approach Pilot (IAP) for Food Security in sub-Saharan Africa, highlighted that to create the systems thinking called by STAP would take time.

"In our work with the IAP for Food Security we summarized the theory of change as Engage, Act and Track - or EAT," said Patrick. "We found that this made it much easier to share knowledge across the twelve diverse projects that are part of the IAP."

"But what's most relevant to us is stakeholder engagement – this will determine if we move from the GEF level through the country process to impact at the local level. With that in mind we mustn’t rush to programme and skip stakeholder engagement as without it the project just won't be there," added Patrick.

Laouali Garba, of the African Development Bank, said that in the context of Africa integration is not an option it is a requirement.

"It is far easier to get money for an environment focused project if there is a development context to it as well," said Garba. "We know that by integration we can leverage different sources of financing."

"With most Africans still living in rural areas and depending on natural resources we have to integrate development and adaptation to climate change. Also it is very important to be innovative, we must coordinate between different multidisciplinary teams at different ministries."

Issues which were examined at the event included different assumptions and conceptions of integration, trade-offs between scope/ambition and transaction costs, success factors; all illustrated from the work of IFAD and its partners. Overall this side event provided useful insights for the GEF7 cycle both from the presentation and through a moderated interaction with the audience.

Blake Ratner, Executive Director of Collaborating for Resilience, we have to be able to respond to multiple goals in an integrated way also responding to the landscape perspective.

"The typical approach to project design doesn't allow for an adaptive approach," said Ratner. "If the GEF is going to be serious about integrating this agenda in Integrated Programmes and more broadly then there needs to be a serious look at how plans can be adapted and sharing lessons learned."

Juha Uitto, GEF IOE, cautioned that monitoring and evaluation must focus on more than just projects to also include overall programmes as well.

Wrapping up IFAD's Roshan Cooke said that overall the session highlighted that complexity has to be embraced as we cannot fit reality to fit our needs. There is no single solution here with multiple levels of diversity and complexity at play. But he was clear that the way forward for Integrated Approach Programmes has to be done with flexibility and adaptive management.