When we tackle complex, global challenges and their many root causes, intuition tells us that development initiatives need to be more holistic — the approaches may need to be as interconnected as the problems. Even the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda states its aims are integrated and indivisible. Yet, the critically important question, “What evidence supports integrated development in practice?” can best be answered through the saying “context is king.”
Integration is an umbrella phrase that can describe thousands of different cross-sector approaches — from health and microfinance, to nutrition and education, to conservation and livelihoods. Consider how evidence showing huge impacts in the integration of savings groups with girls’ education would be relevant for people trying to decide whether to integrate agriculture and environmental conservation. Context matters. A lot. What is being integrated with what? How? For what purpose?
Global development decisionmakers must resist the temptation for a simple, universal answer to whether integration works. The notion that any one gold-standard study on its own will answer the integrated development hypothesis is false. Evidence for cross-sector approaches will always depend on the specific sectors, geography and people in question.