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Learning Paper

Foundations for change: Lessons from Year 3 of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance project - Adaptive Management

Last updated:
12 July 2021
Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance

In 2020, the Alliance nearly doubled the number of people reached through our community work, and continued to deepen our impact on peoples’ lives in ways that help them better cope with both flood risk and the COVID-19 pandemic.

This will increase in the coming years with the expansion of our community work in 2021 to an additional 11 countries, the extension of the program through the end of 2024, and the growing impact of our advocacy and policy work.

ZFRA Learning Report Year 3
ZFRA Learning Report Year 3

This report presents lessons from Year 3 of Phase II of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance community engagement, learning, research, and advocacy work. The report focuses on how the Alliance structure and culture have allowed us to adaptively manage to ensure continued focus on flood resilience and progress toward our goals, while also addressing COVID-19 needs and concerns..

Proactive programming

Adaptive management is flexible, but not always explicitly forward-thinking. Recognizing the need to adaptively manage in ways that respond to today’s needs, longer-term objectives, and future uncertainty, the Alliance has adopted the term ‘proactive programming’ to describe how we work. Proactive programming places a strong emphasis on planning and decision-making for the “what if’s,” not just the “oh no’s,” and in doing so considers these possibilities not just as risks to be mitigated, but as potential alternative pathways to be optimized.

This is achieved by cutting away some of the bulk and burden of more structured approaches. We do this by:

  • De-emphasizing management and focusing more on ‘unmanaging’, or enabling autonomy and decision-making based on trust, learning, and contextual understanding.
  • Intentionally investing in building capable, proactive teams and providing them the resources and flexibility to modify their programs based on needs, challenges, and opportunities.
Characteristics of Proactive Programming
Characteristics of Proactive Programming

Evolution of a system for internal learning – 2013-2021

A core part of the Alliance work is centered around learning, both internal and external. External knowledge-sharing supports advocacy and outreach. Our internal learning and knowledge management approach is set up to support our proactive programming approach by ensuring that: (1) we can respond to changing needs and proactively plan for uncertainty, and (2) the knowledge we generate supports achieving our Theory of Change (ToC).

The Alliance uses four types of learning to deliver our objectives:

  1. Bottom-up learning to capture emerging needs and challenges.
  2. Peer-to-peer learning for improved practice and innovation.
  3. Needs-based guidance, tools, and technical support for ensuring quality program delivery.
  4. Cross-workstream and inter-organizational learning for Alliance decision-making and managing change.


The Year 3 Learning Full Report and a Summary of the report can be downloaded at the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance Portal.


The learning reports from all years of the programme can also be viewed on the Flood Resilience Portal library, in addition to other resources, blogs and videos for practical guidance and information.

Members of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance are funded by the Z Zurich Foundation, with the exception of Zurich Insurance Group. However, the views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the official position of either the Foundation or the company.

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