What is the Programmatic Approach?


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The Programmatic Approach is essentially about the way in which the ICCO Alliance1 promotes cooperation between organizations in developing countries in order to reach development results.

As ICCO Alliance we recognise that poverty and injustice are always related to complex problems in which many people have a stake and where organisations represent certain interests. All are embedded in larger systems that often maintain existing inequalities. The combination of different systems makes up societies. The ICCO Alliance aims at changing the systems that embed and maintain inequalities in such a manner that poverty is ended, justice is guaranteed and rights of all individuals and communities are respected. To be able to do so we propose to work in an approach that will support actors with different stakes in systems to come together and develop a shared agenda for change. We call this approach the Programmatic Approach which is defined as follows:

A multi stakeholder process that leads to organisations working together based on a joint analysis, shared vision and objectives and clear perspective on the results of the cooperation. In such a process all actors can do different things, work at various levels and use their own strengths for the common purpose and objectives, as well as share some activities and in particular share and participate in the linking and learning processes. The programmatic approach does not only address single problems but aims at change in systems2

The Programmatic Approach is not only a new strategy for the ICCO Alliance. It is also a very specific form of Programmatic Approaches. Programmatic Approaches are mainly interpreted as the bringing together of relevant projects and programmes in one planning container such as the Sectoral Approach. For the ICCO Alliance the core of the Programmatic Approach is that we support cooperative processes of multiple stakeholders aiming at creating systemic change because we think that we need the strength of cooperation to be effective in realising difficult and complex changes. It is therefore not mainly a planning approach for the ICCO Alliance but a strategy for realising fundamental change with our partner organisations and other stakeholders in the areas in which we work.

Why do we promote this way of working?

Problems and issues of poverty and injustice in developing countries are related in a systemic way in what we call problematics3. For example promoting

respect for human rights is related to the following aspects: the absence or the lack of implementation of a legal framework, traditional and cultural norms and values about rights of individuals and groups in societies, the level of knowledge about rights of individuals and communities, claim-making capacities in societies and the capacities and intentions of duty bearers in assuring the human rights.

When we acknowledge that human rights are not sufficiently respected and want to contribute to change, this implies that we need to work on the systems underlying and connecting problems and issues rather than on single issues and problems. Working towards change of systems requires the cooperative effort of many of the players involved at different levels and from different angles in addressing the system’s change that is required.

This approach is key to achieving coherence, connection and complementarity in the work of the ICCO Alliance and in the work of civil society organizations whose partners we are in development.

Organizations, when working together, can take on more responsibilities for analyzing their society, developing a joint vision, developing strategies, setting priorities, embarking on joint lobby campaigns, raising funding from their own society and being engaged in a joint learning and capacity development process.

In this way added value is realised in addressing the complexity at various levels and of different aspects of the problematic leading to greater effectiveness in results. We expect more fundamental changes to occur due to the cooperative work. In the end the sustainability of the change realised will increase as well as the sustainability of cooperative efforts and co-operative arrangements. Some cooperation will also come to a natural end while new ones can also develop.

With whom do we co-operate in the programmatic approach?

As ICCO Alliance we strive to cooperate with and develop the capacities of civil society organisations in developing countries with whom we share the values, aims and strategies of working towards the realisation of just societies in which men and women and children are able to live in dignity and well-being, where poverty, injustice and inequality are eradicated.

Civil society organisations4 play a crucial role in changing systems of oppression, marginalisation and discrimination which exclude large groups of people

from wellbeing and the possibility of leading dignified lives. The systems of oppression and injustice are often the result of societal political institutions, government and state dysfunction and a market economy which maximizes profits for a few and impoverishes many. The ICCO Alliance is itself an alliance of civil society organizations and we believe in the strength of civil society and the unique role we have to play. We will therefore first of all cooperate within our ICCO Alliance in the Netherlands, and as ICCO Alliance members with civil society organisations in developing countries and promote their cooperation.

Looking at the complexity of problematics we recognise that for solutions and systems change to be possible we need also to bring actors such as private sector companies, government organisations and knowledge institutions into the co-operation. The mix of actors required depends on the problematic and the system that is involved in the change. In particular the cooperation with the private sector has shown to be valuable in addressing poverty in the economic sector as well as in the social sectors. Local and national government needs to be involved because system change often requires adjustment of the regulatory frameworks and the enabling environment in which government agencies are very important. They are also important because for some social sectors they are the duty bearing organisation.

In the programmatic approach it is important to identify existing networks and alliances of different kinds in developing countries that could benefit from support by and cooperation with the ICCO Alliance, thereby strengthening their cooperative processes and the capacity to realise change.
Alliances in the South, when facing global challenges or issues at supra-national level, can also become linked to or supported by strategic alliances from the Netherlands or elsewhere.

As ICCO Alliance we strive towards cooperative arrangements that are not exclusively built on the ICCO Alliances partner network. The Programmatic Approach is not a replacement of the ICCO Alliance’s or ICCO’s partner policy although there are many interfaces.


An article by Hettie Walters on the systemic changes within the ICCO-Cooperation due to the Programmatic Approach ( MSP approach) has now been published on KM4DEV 's latest online journal

please follow the link:

Another article by Wim Hiemstra (ETC), Herman Brouwer (WUR-CDI) , Simone van Vugt (WUR-CDI) and Hettie Walters (ICCO-Cooperation)  on power in MSP processes is also published in the same journal:

please follow the link:


  1. The ICCO Alliance is formed by: ICCO, Edukans, Prisma, KerkinActie, Share People, Zeister Zendingsgenootschap, Oikocredit, Yente
  2. A system is a set of interacting or interdependent entities forming a larger whole. These systems may include organisational systems, may have geographical boundary, often has multiple levels and actors. Systems have the capacity to change, to adapt when it is necessary in response to internal or external stimulus. Complex Adaptive Systems, Heather Baser and Peter Morgan, Complex Adaptive Systems Theory, ECDPM 2004
  3. Problematics are sets of single problems and issues that together express aspects of a system that has negative effects for groups of people.
  4. Civil society organizations: As ICCO Alliance we work with the formal spectrum of civil society. These are organizations that are registered, have a formal status, and have developed a mission, vision and strategies and implementation capacity. These organizations can be CBO’s movements, NGO’s. Organizations can be faith-based but we don’t restrict our co-operation to faith-based organizations.
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