The approach

ROMA consists of three main activities, each of which is broken down into a series of steps. These are set out in Figure 1, and described in detail throughout this guide.

Figure 1: The ROMA cycle Figure 1:  The roma cycle

Each step is associated with a set of tools, to be used with partners and stakeholders to develop a shared understanding of what the objectives are and what needs to be done. In some cases, these tools will be a series of questions to be answered with research and analysis; in others, they will be workshop or interview techniques. Policy processes can be highly political, sometimes involving dense networks of actors and coalitions with competing values and interests. Engaging with policy in these types of environment requires a collaborative approach, and ROMA has been designed specifically to facilitate collaborative engagement. Drawing on the principles of OM, each of the stages includes tools to help groups and networks of policy actors to coordinate their work and learn together.

Chapter 1 (Identify the problem) shows how important it is to diagnose your problem thoroughly, so you address the root cause of the problem rather than its symptoms. Carrying out a thorough diagnosis will help you understand better what issues you need to work on, with whom and what their motivations might be for working with you. ROMA offers different tools for this: you can do a first approximation with the ‘five whys’ technique and a more detailed diagnosis with the fishbone diagram. The case study from Nepal demonstrates that changing policy is by no means the only goal: there are many other issues that need to be addressed to improve the way, for example, migrant workers are treated.

The second part of Chapter 1 helps you further diagnose complex issues. ROMA offers you a clear analytical framework for building your problem diagnosis in some detail into your objective and approach. Larger programmes could carry this out as an in-depth analysis, but smaller projects and programmes may not have the resources to do this. However, discussions around the different headings (such as whether capacity to implement change is centralised or distributed) will help you focus on key challenges and raise issues that can be further addressed as you work through the rest of the ROMA process.


Chapter 2 (Develop a strategy) is the heart of ROMA: a set of workshop-based tools to engage your stakeholders around a clear objective and develop your plan. The tools can be used separately or together, and in any order: each builds on the other to add layers of analysis. The centre of ROMA is the idea, taken from OM, that sustainable change often results from incremental changes in people’s behaviours, not just in the outputs they produce. Once you have described your initial objective, setting out the changes you would expect, like and love to see is a useful way to think about the outcomes and impacts your work can deliver. The process provides a useful first check on how realistic your initial objective is and explains the theory of how change is likely to come about.

Good communication is central to ROMA and throughout the life of any policy-influencing project. Communication serves different purposes: influence will not come about by simply disseminating the results of your work and hoping they will be picked up. The more complex the problem you are addressing, the more likely it is you will need to adopt a knowledge-brokering approach. This will involve strengthening communications within networks of people and organisations, facilitating a collaborative approach to problem-solving and being involved in debates about change and how it happens. ROMA helps you understand what sort of communication and knowledge-brokering roles you could choose and what sorts of effects they are likely to have.


Chapter 3 (Develop a monitoring and learning plan) helps you ensure you learn, efficiently and effectively, about the strategies you have put in place to achieve your objective and how to improve them. Traditional monitoring approaches, which rely on predefined indicators, do not work well in complex situations where the context changes (sometimes rapidly), new stakeholders come in and out of the picture or new evidence emerges. ROMA helps you develop a monitoring strategy that is appropriate to your purpose, the scale of your project and the context within which you are working.

This does not mean it is a light-touch approach: far from it. ROMA helps you prioritise your needs for monitoring; how you balance the need to be accountable to funders with the need to build trust among your stakeholders or how to balance the need to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your operations with the need to deepen your understanding of the particular context you are working in. There are no fixed answers. Instead, ROMA helps you make a reasoned judgement, and decide on the different tools you could use to collect the information you need and make sense of it.

As suggested by Figure 1, ROMA is full of feedback loops. It is a process that encourages constant reflection on how you have characterised the policy problem, your plan for approaching it and how you manage the implementation of that plan. Within each chapter we provide internal links, encouraging you to move between the chapters.