The age of integration

By Patrick Fine, Tricia Petruney 19 October 2015

Community members participate in a group discussion on an urban development and environmental management project in India. How can the international community operationalize an integrated development agenda? Photo by: Asian Development Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

The Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations in September provide an expansive vision of what we can accomplish over the next 15 years. Unlike the previous global development agenda, they include goals for all countries, not just poor ones, and more consideration for protecting our planet. The language also emphasizes that the new goals are integrated and indivisible, something the authors explain as win-win cooperation among the social, economic and environmental domains.

Now that the new global agenda is officially launched with slick logos and celebrity endorsements, and as the cheers (and some boos) start to die down, it’s time to talk about the hard stuff: How do we actually operationalize an integrated development agenda?

To be more holistic and multisectoral in our efforts, we generally need to know three things: what to do, how to do it and how to pay for it. As a global community, we talk a lot about the former — professional and academic conversations about program models that combine technical interventions. The need for adequate financing is also discussed and is standard fare for journalists, activists and governments.

What we don’t hear a lot about is how to design integrated programs. That’s because the work of integrating and sequencing technical objectives and methods is arduous and tedious. It is not sexy, or tweetable, or easily captured in a photo-op. No one will be planning a massive free concert to raise awareness of the need for more harmonized monitoring systems or comprehensive approaches to program design.

But, without the nuts and bolts of integrated management and implementation, we will never translate aspirational goals into concrete results. The new SDGs address the three big P’s of People, Planet, and Prosperity; I want to propose a second set of big P’s:

Policies and political will

First, none of the multisector cooperation being called for will happen without sufficient policies and political will. True multistakeholder priority setting, decision making and negotiation requires both patience and skill. Without these two P’s, the goals will remain largely rhetorical and our efforts will be ad hoc and too small-scale to effect real change.

Planning and platforms

Second, even the best policies do not implement themselves. We are unlikely to get traction until systems are in place that enable functioning planning and platforms. Loads of logistical considerations go into integrated design, delivery and evaluation of programs and services. From supply chains to accountability systems, if we don’t support and develop the institutions responsible for doing the work, we won’t accomplish much, and we’ll sustain even less.

Participation and partnerships

Finally, we must stubbornly maintain our focus on participation and partnerships. Global development is an umbrella term that masks the myriad areas of specialty expertise on which progress and prosperity depend. Many programs have good intentions to collaborate but lack the capacity to do so. We can start by building smart partnerships between linked disciplines and strengthening the knowledge, attitudes and skills of the people involved to create a common vision and language essential to effective collaboration.

How do we move the agenda for integrated development forward?

First, we must reach outside our traditional technical disciplines to tap innovative doers and thinkers in the complex adaptive systems space who have helped to advance areas as diverse as organizational change and ecology. We must seek new perspectives and challenge ourselves with new intellectual frameworks if we hope to take on difficult, multifaceted and non-static scenarios — and if that doesn’t describe human development, I don’t know what does! For example, Ben Ramalingam’s book, “Aid on the Edge of Chaos,” offers fresh perspectives and insights to provoke us to rethink development orthodoxies.

Next — and more importantly — we must make changes inside our own organizations. Plenty of people in different pockets of development are already integrating specific approaches — from family planning and HIV, to health and microfinance, to nutrition and education with conservation and livelihoods. They are all asking the same types of questions, struggling with similar challenges and coming to true “eureka!” moments. But, because of traditional institutional and funding silos, this is too often done in an isolated, never-the-twain-shall-meet fashion that results in us missing huge opportunities.

We can close the gap if we bring together the integrators to collectively learn from one another on issues such as:

• What does shared measurement and attribution look like?
• How can policymakers from different ministries or funder departments collaboratively plan strategies and budget allocation?
• In which cases will adding a new service have a negative effect on what we were already doing and weaken outcomes?
• How will we reconcile two or more supply chains required for program delivery if we integrate previously separated programs?

As we launch into the SDG era with its explicit demand for more integrated approaches, we need to find and support the people with the will and skill to develop new sector-neutral mechanisms, monitoring and evaluation methods, and approaches for people-centered design. This is the age of integration, and we need integrators to nurture cross-fertilization, learning exchanges and problem-solving.

How can an intentional, integrated approach to the design, delivery and evaluation of programs make an enduring difference in people’s lives? Devex, in partnership with FHI 360, aims to advance the global conversation on the promise offered by integrated development solutions through #IntegratedDev. Visit the campaign site and join the conversation using #IntegratedDev.

About the authors

Patrick fine
Patrick Fine

Patrick Fine is the chief executive officer of FHI 360. Prior to joining the organization, he served as the vice president for compact operations at the Millennium Challenge Corp. He was also the senior vice president of the Global Learning Group at the Academy for Educational Development from 2006 to 2010.


Petruney tricia oped
Tricia Petruney

Tricia Petruney is a technical advisor for research utilization at FHI 360, where she supports governments, funders and implementers to improve evidence-informed decision making within global development policy and program design.


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