Does 1+1=3? Proving the integration hypothesis

A version of this post originally appeared on The Huffington Post. Reposted with permission.

integrationhypothesisLast month, we began the 500-day countdown to the conclusion of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Policymakers, the private sector, civil society groups and academics worldwide are all taking stock of progress in achieving the eight MDGs and asking, “Where are the gaps? What can we do differently? What would a post-2015 framework look like?”

While we don’t yet have the answers to these questions, it is clear that there is much more work to be done. We are now living in a world where emerging economic, technological and demographic shifts have created more sophisticated and demanding challenges. From dramatic climate changes and rapid urbanization to a growing youth bulge, these shifts are putting previous investments at risk and forcing us to rethink how to tackle increasingly complex development challenges.

We need to get smarter about how we approach development.

On September 23rd in New York, as world leaders gather at the United Nations, an important conversation will be taking place down the street. Moderated by Al Jazeera journalist Femi Oke, a discussion titled “Does 1+1=3? Proving the Integration Hypothesis” will bring together academics, funders and representatives of governments, business and implementing organizations to reignite a discussion on integrated approaches to human development.

Integrated development is not new. For decades, development organizations have combined services or sectors on the theory that more holistic approaches are more effective. But does our experience and the evidence prove the theory is correct?

With our roots in evidence-based research, we at FHI 360 began asking ourselves: What do we know about why or how well integrated programs work? As a first step, we examined the existing evidence on integration of global health with other sectors of development. Our review yielded mixed results, with the major takeaway being that high-quality evidence on integrated, multisector development interventions is inadequate. Despite the large volume of integrated projects identified around the world, right now we simply can’t say for sure which combination of integrated strategies are proven to work well, which do not and which are most cost-effective.

In other words, we found more questions than answers.

Do integrated interventions have a “multiplier” or synergistic effect, and if so, are they more cost-effective than traditional “siloed” approaches? What combinations of interventions contribute most to development impact? Are there some domains, such as health or agriculture, that lend themselves to integrated approaches? How do we measure success?

We believe that proving what is still a hypothesis with solid evidence and applications of tested tools has the potential to produce breakthrough solutions to some of the world’s most persistent and complex development challenges. And because we believe in the potential of integrated approaches, we have created a Clinton Global Initiative Commitment to Action, securing nearly US$4 million of our own funding to build a more robust body of evidence, support a community of practice and provoke a frank conversation about multidisciplinary approaches.

We have reached a crossroads in international development and an unprecedented opportunity to reflect on what we are doing well and where we are failing. If current programs and approaches are not getting the job done, then we need to take action now and find those lasting, more comprehensive solutions that work in an increasingly interconnected world. We need to learn how to improve our efforts to empower people to build healthy, productive communities around the world.

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