Adaptive Management: the role of trust

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

This blog is a reflection on the role of trust in adaptive management and what we call proactive programming. How is the Z Zurich Foundation facilitating a trusting culture within the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance and what are the positive outcomes of this?

Like the rest of the world the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance was taken by surprise by the COVID-19 pandemic. We were however, as shown in the third edition of our annual learning report Foundations for change, well positioned to weather the uncertainties we faced in 2020.

We believe that our ability to continue building flood resilience with communities across the globe, influencing decision makers to increase their spending and improve policies for flood resilience, while also addressing new and changing priorities brought on by the pandemic, depends on what we describe as our proactive programming approach.

Trust is a vital part of the adaptive management ship that allows us to weather uncertainty

This is our take on adaptive management. An explicitly forward looking approach in order to adapt not only to the ‘oh-nos’ but the ‘what ifs’.

The role of trust in adaptive management

One of the key factors that helped us adapt and continue delivering an impactful program in 2020 is the strong level of trust within the Alliance.

There is trust between the Z Zurich Foundation and the partners we fund through the Alliance. And there is trust between the partners.

Already in my first meeting with Alliance members, I noticed the strength of the team. It was clear we, including Zurich, were in the same boat. Of course, the time we’ve spent working together (over 8 years for some members) has helped to build this safe, trusting, environment. The way we’ve coped with the pandemic is evidence that it has been time well invested.

You can learn more about the importance of long program time frames and flexible funding in this blog.

Work with partners you already trust

The strong relationship between the Foundation and the partners is based in us having chosen to work with organizations we know will deliver. The Alliance is made up of organizations with strong track records of working with flood prone communities, reducing disaster risk, and conducting impactful research. It therefor makes sense for us to trust our partners to work in ways that best deliver flood resilience for the people who need it.

During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic we trusted teams to reallocate resources and re-prioritize their work in ways that would best meet new and additional needs and strengthen long term resilience in the communities we work with. We didn’t see the need to micromanage how budgets were used, and the positive results are evident, for example in the work of the Philippine Red Cross.

Philippine Red Cross demonstrating the importance of good hygiene practices during floods and to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Photo by Philippine Red Cross
Philippine Red Cross demonstrating the importance of good hygiene practices. Photo by Philippine Red Cross

Embrace challenges as opportunities, not signs of incompetence

For trust to be built, and maintained, it is vital that organizations are not penalized when things don’t work out. Innovation requires some level of risk taking and we encourage this. Failure or challenges are a great opportunity for learning. By sharing challenges within the Alliance we can all learn, adapt, and do better.

You can learn more about why failure is so important for progress in the blog Why Celebrate Failure? Lessons from Implementing Water Resilience, based on experiences from another program funded by the Z Zurich Foundation.

Zurich as more than a donor

Another way in which this trust is facilitated is the Z Zurich Foundation, and the Zurich Insurance company’s role in the Alliance. We are not simply the donor. We’re also a partner with a shared responsibility for delivering the objectives of the Alliance. Colleagues from Zurich participate in different work streams and contribute our experience, expertise, and connections. As a private sector partner we sometimes have access to different spaces than our humanitarian or development partners, or even the research institutes we work with.

KOICA monitoring station in Castilla quebrada (Chosica - Lima) w. Miguel Arestegui and Michael Szoenyi
Michael Szoenyi from Zurich Insurance and Miguel Arestegui from Practical Action inspecting rainfall monitoring station in Peru.

Our work with the Alliance is the Z Zurich Foundation’s first experience of working as part of a multi-sector team to deliver impactful change. Based on our experience we’d recommend other donors to try it.

Top tips for developing and maintaining trust

I’d like to end by sharing some of our top tips for facilitating trust between donors and organizations they fund.

Donors should:

  • Seek out organizations that you are excited to work with – who you trust to deliver the change you’re striving for;
  • and trust that they will deliver what you are asking of them.
  • Consider approaching programs not only as a financial exchange, but also contribute with your unique expertise.
  • Acknowledge that timeframes and milestones must change as and when the world you’re operating in changes.
  • Prioritize the safety and well-being of the people they work with (both staff and ‘beneficiaries’).

While organizations and practitioners should:

  • Aim to work together with the donor to find ways to leverage challenges.
  • Identify, and share, lessons learned and what to change in this or the next iteration of a program.
  • Propose restructures to the work that will help meet objectives while adapting to changed conditions.

Find out more in our latest learning report

Foundations for change: Using adaptive management to navigate uncertainty. The role of trust

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