What it takes to work adaptively: Learning from an SLRC action research project

Lisa Denney, Regina Bash-Taqi, Stephanie Buell, Clare Castillejo, Tania Fraser, Muallem Kamara and Henrietta Koroma

Type: Briefing Paper

Country: Sierra Leone

Date: 15/05/2021

Full summary

This paper captures learning from an adaptive experiment to broaden the strategies that development partners use to connect better with the problem of teenage pregnancy in Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in the world: 21% of girls between the ages of 15 and 19 have children, rising to 29% in rural areas (Statistics Sierra Leone and ICF, 2019: 12). Teenage pregnancy is fuelled by a diverse set of drivers, including: lack of information, knowledge and skills; weak institutions and services; poverty and girls’ limited access to assets; widespread sexual violence and exploitation; and engrained social and gender norms that make girls vulnerable to early sex and pregnancy.


An adaptive programming approach was trialled by the three organisations, given that the intention was to work on the challenge of teenage pregnancy in new ways, where clear causal pathways were unknown. Adaptive programming was new to each of the organisations in Sierra Leone, as well as to Irish Aid Sierra Leone. But there was growing interest in trialling such ways of working, given wider trends in the development industry, and Irish Aid was keen for its partners to build experience of working adaptively, with the benefit of support from action researchers. The programme thus pursued learning about whether and how adaptive approaches unfolded in the context of Sierra Leone, on a highly normative issue like teenage pregnancy and by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) not familiar with working in this way. This briefing note captures what has been learnt from the programme about this adaptive experiment.