Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting (CLA)?

CLA is:

  • a component of several missions' CDCSes
  • a conceptual framework for some principles and operational processes that can enable USAID to become a more effective learning organization and thereby a more effective development organization
  • an approach to facilitating local participation and capacity and promoting country-led development

CLA and country CDCSes

CLA was initially developed by USAID/Uganda as a component of its CDCS to ensure that the CDCS works as a "living strategy," providing guidance and reference points not only for implementation but also for learning and course correction as needed. USAID/Liberia has incorporated CLA into its CDCS, with a dual emphasis on local capacity and mission capacity; several other missions are also working to develop and implement variants of CLA.

ADS 201 includes discussion of learning and encourages missions to develop learning plans (mentioning Uganda's CLA model specifically).

Whether you call it CLA, a learning plan, or something else, this approach helps to create the conditions for development success by: facilitating collaboration internally and with external stakeholders; feeding new learning, innovations, and performance information back into the strategy to inform funding allocations, program design and project management; translating new learning, as well as information about changing conditions, into iterative strategic and programmatic adjustments; and catalyzing collaborative learning and systemic analysis and problem solving among developing country citizens and institutions to foster country-led development. In this sense, the CLA is a multifaceted approach designed to exert a multiplier effect on the mission's development investments. The central function of the CLA is to ensure that progress toward development objectives is guided by continuous learning (through analysis of a wide variety of information sources and knowledge, including M&E data, innovations and new learning that bring to light new best practices or call into question received wisdom, and collected observations from those who have particularly deep or unique insight in a given area), and iterative adaptation of program implementation and, where relevant, strategy. The intent is to continuously assess the causal pathway to desired outcomes and adjust activities as necessary to yield the most effective course of action.

The CLA function is part of a mission's broader learning effort, including monitoring programs and evaluating their impact.

Who is responsible for learning at Mission?
Mission learning agendas will in many cases be housed in and managed by the program office, but technical teams must have strong roles in defining and implementing them, to ensure that development objectives remain paramount and activities are prioritized to address critical issues associated with the effectiveness of the mission's program. To be successful, they should also entail strong participation on the part of implementing partners and other stakeholders. And they should be supported from Washington with technical input and learning and other support from pillar and regional bureaus.

Within the mission, there are key roles to be played by the Mission Director, the DO Team Leaders and the Supervisory Program Officer in championing this approach and building it into the Mission's strategic planning, operational management, resource envelope, and working culture. The Contracting Officer has a pivotal role in embracing mechanisms and scopes that support ongoing learning and course correction without imposing unnecessary restrictions and burdens. Technical team leaders and members need to share knowledge across technical/sector boundaries, build learning and knowledge sharing into project design, manage activities collaboratively and adaptively, and consider methods that emphasize facilitating local actors to analyze systemic development problems and mobilize local solutions. At all levels it is important to forge and strengthen relationships with government counterparts, key donors, civil society and private sector representatives, and other stakeholders that enhance coordination of efforts, collaborative knowledge sharing and learning, and nimble adaptation to new learning and shifting contexts.

Some missions are hiring CLA/organizational learning advisors, or considering expanding the roles of M&E staff. These would serve as coordinators and points of contact. But, given that a key aspect of this approach is its integrated nature and a culture shift that supports it, and given that each person holds valuable tacit knowledge as well as expertise from different perspectives, the learning emphasis will involve all mission staff, all of their partners as well as other stakeholders.

How do we amend a CDCS?
What kind of changes would require a formal amendment to an approved CDCS and who approves it?
The CDCS should be used throughout its five years as a living document, and should reflect adaptation needed to address contextual changes, lessons learned and other knowledge.  If these changes require amendment of the development hypothesis, or the Results Framework, the Mission must capture those changes within its own documentation to ensure that these changes will be fully understood by incoming staff, changes in partners, and other personnel. However, as the CDCS is a living strategy that gets reviewed and modified during its implementation and project design processes, if there are substantive changes at the DO or Goal level, the Mission shall consult with the Regional Bureau and PPL and must prepare and submit a short justification to Washington for Regional Bureau approval and PPL clearance. If the substantive changes at the DO or Goal level, have significant resource implications, in addition to a short justification, the Mission must also submit an updated "Program resources and priorities" section, including updated budget scenarios, for Regional Bureau approval and PPL and BRM clearances. Missions contemplating changes should consult with PPL/SPP Regional Lead and the Regional Bureau Program Office.

How will the design process build in adaptability as project implementation moves forward?
In the PAD, the greatest level of detail will focus on Year One of the project, with significantly less specificity for the out-years. Drawing from the assumptions in the Logical Framework where possible, the plan should anticipate that unexpected outcomes, newly available knowledge, changes in country conditions, and/or other kinds of change may occur, and thus should build in learning processes for periodically reviewing and analyzing the implications of these changes, developing contingency plans, adapting implementation as necessary, and sharing the results of these analyses within USAID and with partners, partner government counterparts, other donors and other stakeholders. It will be important to design implementing mechanisms from the start that are also adaptable. Implementation and A&A planning at the PAD stage should include internal Mission agreement on how this will take place.

Is a CLA Plan mandatory in CDCS?
No, a CLA plan is not required. However, Missions are encouraged to develop a plan to improve coordination and collaboration with development partners, test promising new approaches, build on what works, and eliminate what does not during CDCS implementation. The CLA is one approach that Missions may consider.