This paper critically engages with the problem that much development thinking remains stuck in a linear planning model, and makes clear why and how learning needs to be at the centre of adaptive development programming.

Adaptive programming suggests, at a minimum, that development actors react and respond to changes in the political and socio-economic operating environment. It emphasises learning and the development practitioner is encouraged to adjust their actions to find workable solutions to problems that they may face.

Being prepared to react to change may seem like common sense – and indeed it is. However much development thinking and practice remains stuck in a linear planning model which discourages learning and adaptation, in part because projects are seen as ‘closed, controllable and unchanging systems’ (Mosse, 1998: 5).

This paper critically engages with this problem and makes clear why and how learning needs to be at the centre of adaptive development programming. It begins by clarifying why and what kind of learning matters for adaptive programming. The paper then turns its focus to how strategies and approaches applied throughout a programme’s conception, design, management and M&E can enable it to continually learn and adapt.