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10 lessons learnt in 10 years…


This collaborative blog was written to celebrate Development Pathways’ 10th anniversary. It combines the shared lessons learnt from some of our team members.

Lesson 1: Understanding the drivers and barriers of social and economic progress

Bjorn Gelders, Senior Social Policy Specialist

Over the last ten years, Development Pathways has been at the forefront of bold and innovative analysis and research, in support of progressive and inclusive social policy. Along the way, we have learnt a great deal about the drivers of social and economic progress but also barriers that can lead to ineffective and inequitable programmes and service delivery. A particular challenge is that, all too often, approaches to social protection policy are based on overly simplistic beliefs and platitudes about the nature of poverty and insecurity. Many policymakers and practitioners alike continue to believe the myth that social transfers encourage irresponsible spending and create dependency, that one can accurately identify “the poor”, or that universal approaches are unaffordable. We have learnt the importance of dispelling such myths head-on, using rigorous and cutting-edge approaches to generate data and evidence and to communicate our work in a way that is accessible to non-technical audiences. And, we’re only just getting started, so continue to watch this space! 

Lesson 2: It is a myth that we are able to perfectly target people on the basis of their income levels

Diloa Bailey-Athias, Economist

The access to (quantitative) data has improved tremendously over the last 10 years in low- and middle-income countries. Never before has data been generated at this scale, and made globally accessible for analyses. There are now regular surveys on household’s income and expenditure, people’s labour outcomes, firms, market prices, etc. While this is important for research, monitoring and policymaking, it should not be used incorrectly. At Development Pathways we’ve learned that often targeted social protection programmes in the Global South have been using household survey data together with regression algorithms to determine people’s income and hence participation in the programmes. We have also learned that this process is problematic, and the accuracy in determining people’s income is weak, to say the least. While data and computer algorithms have improved, it is still a myth that we are able to perfectly target people in social protection on the basis their income levels. 

Lesson 3: The importance of networks

 Baindu Kallon, Business Development Consultant

The Development Pathways network is one of our greatest assets. Our connections drive us towards new technical areas such as gender and humanitarian assistance. It expands our pool of knowledge through partnerships with research institutions, IT firms and specialists in our field. Most importantly, it is global – a nexus of creative ideas and approaches to evidence-based and context-specific solutions to the social and economic challenges faced by nations and citizens around the world. As a business, we have learnt that we must collaborate and engage with the world around us. It is key to discovering new opportunities and innovating within our sector. We recognise that, with the diversity and strength of our network (clients, partners, consultants and more) we continue to grow as a dynamic company. 

Lesson 4: Doing good whilst doing business

David Burton, Head of Business Development

The first duty of any business is not to its clients or to its shareholders, but to its staff. Development Pathways has grown by adopting a professional approach to business development. This involves delivering world-class projects, but also adopting a business model with fair charges for our work, which safeguards our staff’s positions. This allows the company to innovate, influence and disseminate. In the long term, it will allow continued growth and greater coverage. 

Lesson 5: The importance of dignity in programme/policy design and implementation

Alexandra Barrantes, Senior Social Policy Specialist

Over the years, a core principle of our company has been to support nationally owned social protection policies, that place dignity and human rights considerations at their core. An inclusive lifecycle social protection system requires governments to base their policy design and programme implementation on human rights principles and build national legal and regulatory frameworks that acknowledge the right to social protection and the right to an adequate standard of living. The design of the system and the underlying policies needs to be constructed on principles of dignity, and also be implemented using these standards.  

Lesson 6: The importance of shared learning and participation in policy design

Anh Tran, Social Policy Specialist

“Social protection” is a confusing term, and its meaning is contested and interpreted differently among different governments and agencies. Therefore, in order for social protection to have impact, it needs to be led by government actors, through a shared understanding of the social protection sector and its importance in national development. As a case in point, Development Pathways has worked for almost a decade in support of the Government of Uganda to build a comprehensive national social protection system, through research, evidence generation, and systems building – and has experienced both progress and setbacks. It has supported effective leadership from within the government to define and steer the direction of the social protection sector and created positive lessons for supporting national policy development. However, it has also shown how different donors and agencies coming in with different ideas can hamper progress.

Lesson 7: The importance of a learning culture and effective feedback loops for monitoring and evaluation

Tim Derrett, Programme Officer

Regularly delivering high-impact projects requires strong, janus-faced monitoring and evaluation systems that transform project challenges into abstract learning and learning into actionable improvements. Rigorous and quality project evaluation must include substantial processes that systematically collect and analyse information to inform decisions about current and future project design and delivery. However, to generate meaningful improvements, these processes must be aligned with strong cultures of learning and feedback loops that critically examine project performance throughout the project cycle delivery. Rather than simply following aimless processes, the most effective projects, and organisations, are those which adopt this tripartite model to generate incremental improvements and drive innovation. 

Lesson 8: The value of framing working relationships as partnerships

Sophie Birkett, Head of Programmes

Whilst each project comes with its own unique set of opportunities and challenges, taking the time to develop a good relationship with the client so that it becomes a partnership rather than a client/customer relationship, means that when the challenges arise there is trust and flexibility on both sides to adapt to the changing situation. The most successful projects have all stakeholders on the same journey together, which is done by robust and transparent communications throughout and setting clear expectations on project delivery from the outset. 

Lesson 9: What often seems to be common sense is wrong

Stephen Kidd, Principal Social Policy Specialist

Over the past 10 years, Development Pathways has been privileged to have had many opportunities to support governments in developing their national visions and strategies for social protection. We have seen that this is a highly contested space, with many actors vying to influence governments and convince them that their particular view of the world is the right one. It is important, therefore, that time is spent building the capacity of policymakers to understand the international evidence on social protection so that they can recognise that there are very different approaches to social protection, which are embedded in distinct ideologies. And, often, what seems to be common-sense is often wrong (for e.g., the simplistic belief that targeting the poor is good for the poor, when in reality we know that it is the rich who, in financial terms, benefit most from poverty targeting, since they pay less tax). We have been able to show policymakers that, often, it is necessary to think counter-intuitively about social protection, if they want to develop truly progressive policies. It is a fantastic experience to accompany policymakers as they make the journey from being embedded in a narrow, pro-rich, poor relief paradigm (if that makes sense) to understanding the pros and cons of a range of paradigms alongside the realisation that a truly progressive country is one that commits to delivering high-quality public services for all citizens. It may mean higher taxes but, if it is part of a broad system of fair redistribution, everyone, ultimately, is a winner. 

Lesson 10: Management information systems are not the silver bullet for all your social protection problems 

Richard Chirchir, Principal Management Information System Specialist

Management information systems (MIS) can play a crucial role in the efficient delivery of social protection schemes. Over the past 10 years, Development Pathways has been privileged to provide advice, design, build and implement social protection management information systems in many country in the Global South. Overall, there is no magical solution to the design and delivery of MIS in social protection. For it to be fully operational, it requires strong political goodwill, functional operational processes (underpinned by operational manuals), adequate human resource capacity and robust hardware and software infrastructure.  Although these pre-requisites may sound daunting for many countries, with good coordination mechanisms within the social protection policy framework – informed by scoping/feasibility assessments, progressively building capacity, taking advantage of opportunities, managing risks and resolving challenges – they can be established. Overall, a good MIS must improve the delivery of a social protection scheme whilst also protecting the privacy of the applicants or beneficiaries. It must be simple to use, adaptable to evolving programme needs, configurable, scalable to handle large datasets and sustainable enabling the governments to make further changes to its source code. Although the MIS are agnostic to the requirements, social protection schemes that have complex operations and require more information will also typically require more complex algorithms necessitating more processing capacity and hardware infrastructure. Like any other tool, MIS must also be maintained. So, the total costs of investments must include the costs of, maintenance, capacity building and upgrading hardware infrastructure. And it is worth bearing in mind, that the MIS will not solve all your problems. If operations do not work, then there is a greater chance that the MIS will not be effective! 

Take a look at our brochure that celebrates our 10th anniversary, sharing memories from Development Pathways staff and partners.

Read more like this:

Pathways’ Perspectives: What has the COVID-19 crisis taught us about social protection?

News: Development Pathways celebrates its 10th Anniversary

Podcast: New podcast: “Universal social security and the social contract”

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  • Brilliant lessons and spot on. Congratulations. These speak for most of us in the development sector and part of our daily struggles and advocacy


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