By Sreya Panuganti

With the Sustainable Development Goals nearing their one-year anniversary, the global community continues to strive toward eradicating poverty by 2030. In order to achieve this ambitious target, many international development practitioners are embracing a more holistic approach to development, combining traditionally single-sector programming, like health or environment work, into more comprehensive efforts. But such integrated development is sometimes easier said than done.

Locus, a coalition of 12 government and non-government development organizations, was launched in 2013 in part to build consensus around what integrated development actually entails and how to design and finance it. “We recognized, as organizations, that we needed better data, and data on a variety of questions,” said Nanette Barkey, a member of Locus and director of results and measurements at the NGO Pact. “But we didn’t really know what those questions were.”

Over the last three years, Locus members have identified knowledge gaps, questions they wanted answered, and finally, after a number of iterations, compiled the results in a new Prioritized Research Agenda for Integrated Development.

Speaking at the Wilson Center on August 30, Barkey was joined by three colleagues from organizations also working on integrated development to discuss the research agenda and successes and challenges in an emerging field.


Shae Thot, or “The Way Forward,” is a community development project funded by the USAID Regional Development Mission for Asia, and is implemented by Pact in more than 2,700 communities across Myanmar. In collaboration with local partners, Pact provides resources and technical assistance to enhance community-based knowledge systems and implement local development goals. Barkey described the project as one of Pact’s “most integrated” with interventions targeting livelihoods, food security, nutrition, health, and water and sanitation.

“The key thing for Shae Thot,” explained Barkey, “is that we work through local organizations that are representative of the citizens.” For instance, the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) work of Shae Thot is done primarily through Village Development Committees – democratically elected bodies independent from village authorities – which encourages inclusive and participatory decision-making, she said, and builds capacity that will endure after the project ends.

Working so closely with local civil society makes it impossible to ignore that these communities have many needs, Barkey said. “They don’t just need health; they don’t just need education or WASH, or resilience to climate change. Development isn’t happening in just one sector.” Shae Thot trains thousands of community health workers in child health and nutrition; provides access to family planning services and mobile health clinics; and facilitates hygiene training and improved access to potable water.

There are a number of positive side effects resulting from such a multi-dimensional approach. One of the significant outcomes Pact hopes to achieve is improvements in education. “As children are spending less time collecting water, and as people’s households are earning more money,” Barkey said, “we believe that more children will be going back to school.” Children whose families don’t rely on their labor are able to attain higher levels of education which should, in turn, translate into higher earning potential for households. And healthier children and adults are able to be more productive in school or at work.

Quantifying cross-over benefits is critical to proving the efficacy of integration. When Pact asked a third-party evaluator to measure how well indicators were integrated in a 2015 mid-term evaluation, “they just couldn’t do it,” Barkey said. Although the evaluators found a number of instances reflecting the integrated nature of Shae Thot, such as the “one team approach” employed by field partners to help deliver services efficiently, the original baseline indicators were not designed with integration in mind. This made efforts to measure the effect of integration difficult. Barkey noted that USAID has extended Shae Thot by two years to 2018, allowing Pact to develop indicators on program integration and conduct a baseline assessment on the process of integration itself.


Jayce Newton, the lead for integration at USAID’s Center of Excellence on Democracy, Rights, and Governance (DRG), stressed the need to emphasize the benefits of integration. “I don’t think integration is important,” he said, “I think it’s much more vital than that.”

“We recognize that we need more impact, that we need more cost effectiveness, [and] more results for the money we’re spending,” said Newton. USAID program officers often have to balance a number of different priorities and projects at any given moment. Better integration allows them to draw on the support and expertise of other officers from other sectors, he said, thereby optimizing the results of their respective programs.

DRG conducted extensive surveys of six missions – Rwanda, Ethiopia, Malawi, Indonesia, Nepal, and Guatemala – to identify how integration was occurring and the challenges program officers faced in integrated programming. One of the main obstacles they found was earmarked funds. “If you want to have integrated programming at USAID, you’re looking at what we call ‘different flavors of money,’” said Newton. For example, “if you want to combine economic development money with PEPFAR money, that’s not easy.”

Constructing holistic projects that combine various flows of single-sector funding is a formidable challenge. “Those silos are not going to get busted,” said Newton, “they’re there for a reason.” He suggested instead to “make the silos a little more permeable.” If development practitioners can “let knowledge and information and data pass more easily through them, it won’t really matter whether [sectors] are siloed or not.” Transparent, accurate, easily accessible data can help program officers make the case to their leadership that integration will lead to more effective programming. “If we have leadership onboard, if they understand what integration can do, that will unlock all these doors to collaboration and learning,” he said.

Jim Tarrant, chief of party of Development Alternatives Inc.’s Biodiversity Results and Integrated Development Gains Enhanced, or BRIDGE project, agrees. “To achieve that synergy, the key is transparency and governance – and integration can help facilitate both of these things.”

BRIDGE is a five-year program funded by USAID to integrate biodiversity conservation into different development initiatives across the globe, including climate change adaptation and mitigation, democracy and governance, food security, health, and trade.

One of the key challenges BRIDGE faces is in understanding “where the other sectors are mentally,” Tarrant said. Every sector comes with its own biases, its own language, and its own framework of knowledge. BRIDGE is working with specialists from the USAID Forestry and Biodiversity Office, Smithsonian Institution, Conservation International, and Relief International to develop project case studies, evidence briefs, and technical reports to help practitioners understand how conservation can help communities adapt to climate change and is linked to other development outcomes, such as improved governance and food security.


Integration itself is difficult to define, said Salman Jaffer, program director at Social Impact, a consulting firm providing organizational management services to social change projects, encompassing a wide array of fields. But according to Jaffer, integration is not only about what results development organizations achieve, but how they do it.

“We have to be mirrors of integration,” Jaffer urged. “We have to seek ways in which we can be more matrixed as an organization.” Social Impact thinks through what type of structure, processes, culture, and personnel training are required to enable organizations like USAID to meet their objectives, he said.

“We have to seek ways in which we can be more matrixed as an organization” The USAID-funded and Social Impact-run Global Health Professional and Organizational Development program helps USAID and USAID partners to build capacity in project and program design, management, strategic planning, and partnerships. Describing their approach as a “microcosm of integration,” Jaffer explained that they urge clients to take a multidisciplinary perspective, and many do, “looking at nutrition, education, social support, and health.”

Integration is about intentionally aligning seemingly disparate sectors to address community-level problems that are often multidimensional, said Jaffer. “The reality is a lot of us work in siloed environments – so how do we bring all that together to drive integration?”

Barkey suggested this is precisely the goal of Locus. “The job, really, of the research agenda and the working group specifically is to consolidate and to bring together all of this knowledge,” she said. “We want to be collaborative. We want to be advocates for the research… Anyone really can take this research agenda and run with it.”

The Locus research agenda suggests a number of key questions that will strengthen the case for funding and support if answered. These include helping to identify the costs and benefits of integration versus traditional development programming, identifying the differences in how integration is viewed by local communities versus policymakers, and determining if outcomes from integrated development efforts last longer than those from vertical efforts.

The hope is that by helping to focus such a diverse community on these central questions, Locus can create a feedback loop “where best practices for integrated development are translated into future investments, policies, and programs,” according to the agenda.

“We need to find a way to do development differently,” Newton said. “I think integration will allow us to do development differently, will create new types of programming that will be more effective and that will be more impactful.”