Tuesday, 11 February 2014



Despite the phrase becoming increasingly prevalent in development discussions, there does not appear to be a common definition for the term in the literature, nor material addressing the specifics of exit strategies. It seems to have originated in business terminology, moved to the military and has more recently been applied to humanitarian and development-related third-party interventions, specifically.
The dictionary meaning of ‘Exit Strategy’ is a preplanned means of extricating oneself from a situation that is likely to become difficult or unpleasant
WIKIPEDIA says, an exit strategy is a means of leaving one's current situation, either after a predetermined objective has been achieved, or as a strategy to mitigate failure. An organization or individual without an exit strategy may be in a quagmire (a situation that is hard to deal with or get out of : a situation that is full of problems). At worst, an exit strategy will save face; at best, an exit strategy will peg a withdrawal to the achievement of an objective worth more than the cost of continued involvement.
Hence, one hypothesis could be that the generally held perception of an exit strategy in development PROGRAMME includes the agency removing itself from the context where it was working.


A PROGRAMME “exit” refers to the withdrawal of all externally provided PROGRAMME resources from an entire PROGRAMME area. A PROGRAMME exit may refer to the withdrawal of external support from an entire PROGRAMME area, or it may address the withdrawal of support from communities or districts within a PROGRAMME area. It could also refer to the end of a PROGRAMME funding cycle, with an extension through a follow-on extended recovery PROGRAMME or a longer-term development PROGRAMME. And lastly, it may include a combination of withdrawal, PROGRAMME extension or transition.


A PROGRAMME Exit Strategy is a plan describing how the PROGRAMME intends to withdraw its resources while ensuring that achievement of the PROGRAMME goals (relief or development) is not jeopardized and that progress towards these goals will continue.The Exit Strategy may include several scenarios or contingency plans that address unknown factors, such as recurrent droughts or the effects of a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS. Contingency plans may also include planning for further resources when it may not be possible to exit entirely from PROGRAMME areas.


The goal of an Exit Strategy is to ensure the sustainability of impacts after a PROGRAMME ends. It could also be defined in a broader sense as a PROGRAMME’s ‘sustainability strategy’, which could be accomplished through staggered graduation from specific project areas, simultaneous withdrawal from the entire PROGRAMME area, or transitioning to associated PROGRAMME in selected areas.


Exit strategies, when planned with partners in advance of close-out, ensure better PROGRAMME outcomes and encourage commitment to PROGRAMME sustainability. In addition, good Exit Strategies can help resolve tension that may arise between the withdrawal of assistance and commitment to achieve PROGRAMME outcomes.4 Exit strategies can help clarify and define a sponsor’s role to host countries and local partners as being time limited, reducing the potential for misunderstandings and future dependency. Finally, they are critical to developmental relief PROGRAMME as they inform a PROGRAMME’s sustainability plan or planning for its next phase. Conversely, without Exit Strategies, PROGRAMME transitions and exits are likely to be more haphazard.


The purpose of an exit strategy is not to hasten the exit – exit is not valuable for its own sake – but to improve the chance of sustainable outcomes for the PROGRAMME.


Three basic approaches to Exit Strategies are outlined below. They are: 1) phasing down, 2) phasing out, and 3) phasing over.


Phasing down is a gradual reduction of PROGRAMME activities, utilizing local organizations to sustain PROGRAMME benefits while the original sponsor (or implementing agency or donor) deploys fewer resources.6 Phasing down is often a preliminary stage to phasing over and/or phasing out.


This refers to a sponsor’s withdrawal of involvement in a PROGRAMME without turning it over to another institution for continued implementation. Ideally a PROGRAMME is phased out after permanent or self-sustaining changes are realized, thus eliminating the need for additional external inputs. It is recognized that reaching a level of self-sufficiency through behaviour change and asset creation activities (such as crop diversification and nutrition education) requires a long-term investment, and is unlikely to be realized entirely during the term of a given project. PROGRAMME can be designed from the onset to inculcate knowledge, skills and tangible assets within a fixed time period, and with funding cycles considered in the planning of phase out timing.

NOTE! Funding cycles don’t always coincide with needs. Donor support and funding cycles may impose artificial timelines on PROGRAMME phase-out. For instance, where harvest cycles may be an obvious choice for timing a PROGRAMME phase-out, the donor’s fiscal year and other pre-determined timing requirements for grant closeout may not accommodate this.


The third type of Exit Strategy approach is ‘phasing over’.8 In this case, a sponsor transfers PROGRAMME activities to local institutions or communities. During PROGRAMME design and implementation, emphasis is placed on institutional capacity building so that the services provided can continue through local organizations.
In developing phase over Exit Strategies, there are several questions that must be considered:
• How strong is the community’s sense of ownership/commitment to continue PROGRAMME activities?
• To what extent does the community value PROGRAMME activities? What is the level of demand for the “phased over” services?
• Do community members, groups and service providers have the knowledge and skills needed to implement the PROGRAMME activities?
• Do the local organizations implementing the phased over activities have sufficient institutional and human resource capacity?
• Are the organizations responsible for implementing phased over PROGRAMMEs resilient to shocks and changes in the political and social environment?
• Is there a viable plan to generate the consumable supplies (such as the food or agricultural inputs) that are required to implement activities?


1. Time Limit: Relief, recovery and development PROGRAMMEs all have time limits dictated by funding cycles. Time limits may increase a PROGRAMME’s focus in establishing systems of sustainability or they may impose artificial timing constraints.

2. Achievement of PROGRAMME impacts: Although achieving the intended PROGRAMME impact is often difficult within a given timeframe (and may even create perverse incentives12), indicators of PROGRAMME impact can sometimes be used as exit criteria. Impact indicators can be used to focus PROGRAMME “graduation” efforts on the more self-reliant communities or the effective PROGRAMME components. Lastly, impact indicators can help inform and guide the Exit Strategy time line.

3. Achievement of Benchmarks: Benchmarks are defined as the measurable indicators of identified steps in the graduation process of an Exit Strategy. They are part of the Monitoring and Evaluation planning matrix from the onset. Benchmarks should be linked to the graduation process and to the PROGRAMME components to be phased out or over.


There are several considerations when establishing the time frame for PROGRAMME Exit Strategies. Exit Strategies should be built into the design of PROGRAMME from the BEGINNING. This will encourage the development of interventions that are sustainable, since an Exit Strategy is, in essence, a ‘sustainability plan’.

Establishing an exit timeline that is linked to the PROGRAMME funding cycle, and is clearly communicated to the community is essential. Since PROGRAMME implementation will influence Exit Strategy activities, it is important that the exit plan remains flexible with the expectation that some of the exit criteria and benchmarks may need to be modified during the PROGRAMME cycle.

Further, implementing exit plans in a gradual, phased manner is recommended, as the staggered graduation of project sites can contribute to sustained outcomes by applying lessons learned from earlier sites to those that come later. Lastly, after phase over or PROGRAMME phase out is complete, continued contact with communities will help to support sustainability of outcomes.


1. If the PROGRAMME impact has been sustained, expanded or improved after PROGRAMME end;
2. If the relevant activities are continued in the same or modified format; and
3. If the systems developed continue to function effectively.


The planning and implementing of Exit Strategies is admittedly not an easy task. The relative newness of the subject matter, particularly for an emergency context, provides few lessons learned or better practices to apply. Conversely, Exit Strategies are part of good PROGRAMME planning and thus their basic premise (promoting sustainable PROGRAMME outcomes) and components should not be entirely foreign. With a bit of practice, over time they can be “mainstreamed” into all aspects of PROGRAMME from assessment, planning and design to implementation, monitoring and evaluation. It is hoped that this document will encourage and promote that process among practitioners.