A New Normal: Adapting our Approach to MERLA during COVID-19

Aug 12, 2020 by Molly Chen and Amal Mohammad Comments (0)

If you’d asked what we thought would be a “worst case scenario” for our work in monitoring, evaluation, research, learning & adapting (MERLA) before March of this year, we might have answered “data quality checks are not going well” or “it’s been tough to get a Learning Session scheduled for the whole team.” However, in those scenarios, we are usually able to uphold our assumptions to continue our work. 

COVID-19 has provided the unique opportunity for our MERLA team at RTI International to quickly learn and adapt as we work through the short- and long-term challenges of implementing projects at a time like this. Data for decision making, and a pretty level head, are critical factors when everything is uncharted territory. In any organization during “normal” times, knowledge management (KM) can pose a huge challenge and different  initiatives to improve processes can only get us so far. We need people to earnestly participate and provide the information to oil our KM machines. As we all puzzle through how to learn and adapt to the new challenges that we face, it’s important that we create opportunities to learn from one another and that we learn to ask for help. 

Our MERLA Community of Practice, a group of more than 70 staff at RTI, has worked to bring staff together to learn from one another, problem-solve, and fill gaps in our knowledge over the last few months. In addition to our external monthly Learning and Adapting during COVID-19 webinar series, where we’ve invited partners and collaborators from various organizations (USAID, Harvard University, UNICEF, World Bank, and others) to share their lessons learned during the pandemic, we’ve been organizing internal avenues for knowledge sharing across our organization. We recently hosted a “MERLA during COVID-19 Forum,” where projects from across our different technical areas presented what they’re seeing on the ground and how they are learning and adapting their approaches to monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) and KM during this challenging time. 


Here are several key lessons learned from our projects as they adapted their MERLA methods during COVID-19: 


1.       Adapt questionnaires for phone surveys and use tools and applications available to respondents. Instead of attempting to convert a traditional face-to-face questionnaire to be conducted over the phone, customize the survey conducted over the phone using SMS, CATI, IVR, WhatsApp, Zoom, or other applications that are available to respondents. This could include shortening the overall survey time to account for noise or distractions, providing an incentive like a phone credit, and establishing trust by familiarizing respondents with the process before the actual survey call. In a recent webinar, RTI hosted a panel of experts working on phone surveys to collect data for COVID-19 in low and middle income countries.

2.       Coordinate and collaborate with MEL staff and focal points in government institutions. Coordinating and collaborating among MEL staff, technical staff, and government focal points at the central and regional levels is necessary to effectively collect, centralize, and quality check data from different institutions. For instance, when respondents were unreachable or did not respond on time, the USAID Wildlife Asia activity tapped into their network of local partners and technical experts to reach out to participants.

3.       Adapt trainings, data collection tools, and applications to the local context. Planning for the unique circumstances of phone interviews can create a better experience for enumerators and respondents. For example, the USAID Tusome Pamoja activity in Tanzania provided enumerators with clear guidelines and tips to help them adapt to remote sampling, interviews, and data collection. Some of the key success factors included developing flexible data collection protocols, setting up WhatsApp groups among enumerators so they could learn from each other, collaborating and adapting in real time when faced with difficulties, and preparing replacement respondents in case of connectivity issues.

4.       Flexibility and follow-up are critical to sustaining relationships. Developing compatible protocols and instruments to the remote setup is essential, while flexibility and follow-up contribute to later success. For example, the USAID/Governance for Local Development (GOLD) activity in Senegal has reported that using video conferences to train partners to submit their data through an online data collection system has proven useful in maintaining data flow. They created a WhatsApp group to communicate to partners, are following up via telephone calls for feedback and data quality reviews and collaborating with other programs to share data and lessons learned.

As we continue to share knowledge within RTI and with the development community, we’ve developed a few general observations. First, learning from each other’s experience, good practices and lessons is critically important, especially in an extremely vulnerable and stressful time. The MERLA during COVID-19 Forum provided an important opportunity for project teams to ask each other questions about methodologies, tools and technologies that have been working, about how to problem-solve tough decisions while ensuring reliable data is collected on time, and most importantly, to ask “how are you adapting?” Second, there’s no one size fits all solution for adapting to this new environment. Each country, project, and person have their own unique circumstances that are important to acknowledge and to understand while we all navigate this new terrain. Third, be open to new ideas, because if there was ever a time to test what we thought we knew about anything, the time is now. Let’s embrace that some of the best ideas come when we’re tested. And last but certainly not least, let’s share with each other, across our teams, organizations, and this international community what works and what doesn’t, because it’s a long road ahead and remember, we’re all in this together. 



What are the ethical implications of using Third-Party Monitoring?

Aug 11, 2020 by Sonja Schmidt Comments (0)

What do you do when you are an A/COR and unable to visit your activity’s sites because they are located in insecure areas or because your mission has restricted all travel due to COVID-19?  Would Third-Party Monitoring (TPM) help you to fulfill your oversight responsibilities? This blog post provides a brief description of TPM and discusses some of the ethical implications of using this mechanism.


What is Third-Party Monitoring?

 USAID defines Third-Party Monitoring (TPM) as “the systematic and intentional collection of performance monitoring and/or contextual data by a partner that is not USAID or an implementing partner directly involved in the work.”  

 Third-party monitors (also called field monitors) are contracted by USAID to act as its eyes and ears when USAID staff are unable to carry out their oversight responsibilities by visiting project/activity sites. This situation often occurs in non-permissive environments which are characterized by instability, inaccessibility, and/or insecurity.


What can a TPM contractor do?

 Verification of activities is the primary purpose of third-party monitoring.  The TMP service provider verifies that goods, commodities, and equipment have been delivered and services have been provided as reported by the implementing partner. This information helps the A/COR to better understand programmatic performance and to make decisions about approving financial reports and vouchers.  It also ensures compliance with laws that prevent USG resources from going to sanctioned groups. 

 The TPM service provider may also inspect implementation progress, collect feedback from beneficiaries, and collect contextual or atmospheric data to get a sense of the larger environment affecting activity implementation.


What are the ethical implications of using a TPM contractor?

Third-party monitoring can be risky and dangerous. Depending on the context, field monitors may be subjected to physical threats, kidnapping, imprisonment or even death while conducting site visits.  By engaging a TPM contractor, USAID is transferring risk to a third party.  This risk transfer should not be taken lightly and should be a point of discussion in early planning stages for TPM.  Field monitors often live and work in locations where monitoring is taking place and may be placed at greater risk by taking on the role of field monitor. There is also the risk that field monitors may overstate their level of access to sites and under-report security incidents in order to secure an income stream.

How can the risks be mitigated?

There are measures that USAID and the TPM contractor can put in place to reduce the risks to field monitors. For example, the TPM provider should develop a security plan that addresses the particular security concerns for the context in which the contractor is operating.   The TPM provider may need to secure official introduction letters from high-level authorities in order to access sites for monitoring.  In addition, there should be an emphasis on training field monitors in security measures, and clear protocols on how field monitors can be supported in challenging situations. (You can learn more about risk mitigation strategies for third-party monitoring in non-permissive environments by taking the online course on USAID University called “Third-Party Monitoring for Non-Permissive Environments”).

In conclusion, TPM is a great tool for Collaboration, Learning and Adapting since it brings USAID, implementing partners, and TPM contractors together to discuss USAID’s information needs and how this information will be collected and used. However, engaging a TPM contractor has ethical and security implications that have to be considered carefully during the planning and implementation processes.

Filed Under: Working Smarter

Adapting to New COVID-19 Realities: Emerging Lessons Learned from Thinking and Working Politically in Niger

Aug 10, 2020 by Mehreen Farooq Comments (0)

Trust in public institutions is one of the most essential factors for effective public health crisis management and response. Activities designed to strengthen governance, particularly those that build confidence and foster deeper connections between the public sector and its constituents, are central to this effort. As public opinion shifts, however, it is important to take stock and adapt to changing political, economic, and social factors that influence stakeholder interests and behaviors. To put it another way, the COVID-19 pandemic has demanded development practitioners to Think and Work Politically (TWP) like never before.

Fortunately, development practitioners working in fragile and conflict-affected environments have been applying TWP in rapidly evolving contexts for some time and may have promising practices to offer. In Niger, for example, Counterpart International has applied TWP principles extensively to implement USAID’s Participatory Responsive Governance Program – Principal Activity (PRG-PA). This program applies Counterpart’s Inclusive Social Accountability framework to engage diverse stakeholders to work in partnership with government to improve service delivery in three key sectors: Health, Education, and Security Governance.

As PRG-PA activities expanded to violent-extremism affected regions like Diffa and Tillabéri, Counterpart applied our Complexity-Aware Monitoring Evaluation and Learning (CAMEL) framework to inform how and when to adapt program interventions based on changes to our program, beneficiaries, and the operating environment. Using tools like a Complexity Checklist and monitoring several sentinel indicators enabled flexibility in program design and management. As a result, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, our team was able to avoid activities coming to a complete standstill.

Lessons Learned & Good Practices

  • Enable field teams to make timely programmatic decisions
  • Leverage Complexity-Aware Monitoring Evaluation and Learning (CAMEL) tools for adaptive management
  • Engage partners early in modifying program design as complexity emerges
  • Apply understanding of political economy to improve public health responses and develop social accountability of public health services

While no one could have anticipated the impact of the pandemic, Counterpart had robust preparedness mechanisms in place that enabled us to adapt and continue some activities in a modified manner. On a day-to-day level, our field security manager served as our crisis management lead and monitored infection rates and provided updates to our home office’s crisis management team.  

As infections began to rise, the Government of Niger (GON) limited social activities, and our field team quickly engaged USAID and initiated teleworking policies for our staff.  We learned by being a member and from participating in international development coordinating bodies, such as the Association des Organisations Internationales Représentées au Niger (OIREN), and the Comité Stratégique ad hoc pour une Coordination Intégrée des Reponses Sanitaires et humanitaires au COVID-19 that other development offices were doing the same.

To ensure business continuity, Counterpart leveraged remote collaboration software and bought internet credit for our staff to ensure that they could safely work from  home while maintaining social distancing. We also worked with our partners to temporarily pause activities in the field as part of our Do No Harm policy while we developed modifications to our work plan.

For trainings, we explored  using WhatsApp or delivering USBs with content for asynchronous training delivery. As our team works through challenges, our field Senior Management Team meets on a weekly basis to re-assess the situation and determine how to adjust activities and our operations accordingly. An important lesson from this approach was in allowing our field teams the flexibility and autonomy to drive critical decision-making forward in a timely manner.

To further understand how the situation was evolving, our team participated in COVID response meetings established by the GON. Our regional coordinators attended regional meetings with health and education officials. At the national level, our office provided agency leads with communication support that established guidelines for journalists on how to share consistent and clear information with the public on prevention protocols and services. Because we had established trust with government stakeholders on earlier communications strengthening work for security governance, the GON was receptive and appreciative of our feedback and input. Additionally,  we received gratitude from the Ministry of Primary Education for supporting them to develop guidelines, banners, and radio messages to sensitize parents, teachers, and students on COVID-19.  

As we deepened our engagement with the public sector, we saw an opening to increase citizen accountability of the government’s COVID response. While this has not been easy in other restrictive environments, because our approach to PRG-PA applied TWP – looking for windows of opportunity to engage champions for change –  the government appreciates our collaborative approach and continues to call upon Counterpart as a valuable resource partner to foster trust, particularly with hard-to reach populations.

Filed Under: CLA in Action

Reflecting to Adapt: A framework for understanding and responding to COVID-19’s disruptions in the DRG sector

Jul 23, 2020 by Natalie Trisilla, Associate Director for Evidence and Learning, International Republican Institute Comments (0)

COVID-19 has disrupted all aspects of life – and the design and implementation of democracy, human rights, and governance (DRG) programs is no exception.  In the early phase of the pandemic, the International Republican Institute’s (IRI) Evidence and Learning Practice recognized that a collaborative process would be critical to rethinking our project approaches in light of COVID-19.  

Recognizing this need, we developed a straightforward reflection framework and process that IRI program teams have used to pause and systematically consider what COVID-19 means for current projects’ goals, as well as the countries and regions where projects are implemented. Leveraging the main principles of CLA, this process uses the well-known “What? So, What? Now, What?” reflection model to answer these questions in four main spheres in the programming ecosystem: problem; incentives and assumptions; approach; and results.

Group working together at a laptop

IRI staff collaborate during a training workshop on learning strategies. 
Photo Credit: Natalie Trisilla, IRI

Here’s how we adapted this process to the current environment – and what we learned along the way:

What? In the first step of the process, we help teams recall and reidentify the “what” of their project:

  • What was the original problem?
  • What incentives did we intend to leverage or create to implement our project successfully?
  • What approach did we plan to use? And, finally –
  • What outcome-level results did we anticipate achieving?

In some cases, simply recalling the main problem, incentive structures, and core assumptions of the project within the new context of the global pandemic is enough to highlight new dimensions of the problem and its affects. For example, efforts to increase voter turnover in Uganda through a door-to-door campaign will need to look different during a health pandemic. Research shows that this reflection alone can lead to fresh perspective and thinking about the issue and possible solutions. In most cases, though, a deeper analysis to answer the question “So, what?” is warranted.

So, What? In this second phase of the process, we guide staff to consider the “so, what?” question. More specifically: What does COVID-19 mean for the project? How is COVID-19 affecting the problem and how is it challenging our core assumptions and plans?  

This is the heart of this reflection process and where we spend the most time with our staff to thoroughly examine some of the following questions:

  • Has COVID-19 made the problem more urgent or less urgent?
  • Did the pandemic, and protocols to mitigate it, change who the problem was affecting or how it was affecting them?
  • Has it disproportionately affected marginalized groups or resulted in newly marginalized individuals?
  • What new problems have emerged that now need to be addressed or incorporated into the project’s approach?
  • What incentives have disappeared or emerged and how will we leverage or mitigate those moving forward?

More specific questions for our DRG colleagues might include:

  • Do government officials have increased incentive to engage with citizens or less?
  • Do citizens have increased demand for transparency or accountability from their elected officials?
  • How have the changes in daily life affected citizens’ interest in government?
  • How have political parties’ priorities changed during COVID, especially with many elections being postponed?

Now, what? Armed with reflections from the previous steps, we guide teams to answer the last question, “now, what?”  In this final step, we develop a plan of action with staff, asking:

  • What are we going to do or change about our program now that we have a clearer understanding of the challenges our partners and beneficiaries are facing and a sharper understanding of how it affects our project’s goals?
  • Do we need to change the type or sequencing of or topics of our training and support activities? Are there newly marginalized groups that we need to prioritize in our outreach?
  • Do we need to expand or otherwise modify our definition of “results” in this pandemic context?
  • Are civic activists using knowledge and skills in new ways, perhaps to advocate or communicate with different government officials or ministries?
  • Are new relationships developing and how can these be leveraged moving forward?
  • Are watchdog organizations now monitoring government funding related to health initiatives instead of infrastructure or other procurements?  
  • What additional skills or connections to new sectors do they need to do this effectively?

With answers to these questions, our teams are revamping their approaches and reimaging their partnerships to match not just the short-term realities of the pandemic, but also the medium- and longer-term social, political and economic changes afoot.

Providing the space and framework for teams to examine programming goals and approaches thoroughly yet efficiently in light of the pandemic has led to several programmatic adaptations and further sharing of lessons across IRI. For example, our South America team is sharing their experiences of web-based learning courses with our Middle East and North Africa team, which is exploring an e-learning module for a civil society capacity building project. Through this reflection exercise, our Middle East and North Africa team realized their civil society partners in Tunisia were using their advocacy and communication skills to support local leaders in responding to the pandemic, something that was not foreseen when the project began last year.

In Indonesia, our team used this reflection session to consider what the pandemic means for decentralization, anticipating both increased support for decentralization among local officials and greater skepticism of it at the national level. In Uganda, our team is using this reflection framework to reexamine planned political party support, recognizing that without in-person campaigning many Ugandans may be without access to critical party platform information ahead of the recently postponed 2021 elections.

As the COVID-19 pandemic persists, we hope IRI’s experience can provide others with a starting point to use CLA approaches to reimagine results and rethink strategies to achieve them.

Thinking and Working Politically in the Times of COVID-19: Recognizing and Capturing Opportunities

Jul 17, 2020 by Sarah Swift Comments (2)

Sarah Swift is a Democracy Officer, Cross Sectoral Programming Division, USAID's Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance

“The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word 'crisis.' One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger--but recognize the opportunity.”  -John F. Kennedy 

“What if 2020 is the year we’ve been waiting for?” -Leslie Dwight

We are living an era of crisis, and I am not one to compartmentalize. 

The dangers are multiple. Washington, D.C. is reopening its economy in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. An extraordinary movement has grown out of the latest, dramatic illustrations of the injustices faced by black Americans, and with it, came unprecedented military presence on streets near my home. I fear both the pandemic’s resurgence and the opportunities for change that would be lost in the absence of action. And with normalcy feeling so far away, I fear for my family relationships, my job satisfaction, and my sanity. 

Arguably, my sanity has been the first casualty.  Yet, in calmer moments, I recognize what this moment has made possible. My son rushes to join my work meetings, entranced by the sight of himself on camera. He has perfected his technique in “tummy rubbing” our cat. He has created more genius cardboard creations than I ever imagined possible; as a result of his NPR science podcast, he now not only knows what a bacteriologist is, he also wants to be one. And I’ve been able to watch all this.  

In work, as with life, I have been trying to remember the opportunities, while keeping the dangers clearly in view. Are there opportunities that were not possible before? Among other things, I wonder if we have a chance to elevate Political Economy Analysis (PEA) and Thinking and Working Politically (TWP) within USAID. PEA and TWP are all about understanding how current events interact with enduring trends and conditions, and together, form space for change. They help you to step back from a situation and to reflect -- ideally in the absence of judgement upon what is -- where incentives may have shifted.  

How then, can we use TWP to better understand the forces upon us -- helping us to navigate around the dangers, certainly, but also, to recognize and seize new opportunities?

The threats to USAID’s programming are numerous. Yet, without wishing to minimize the undeniable suffering it is inflicting, it also offers opportunities through its remarkably vivid illustration of just how intimately each individual’s welfare depends on that of everyone else. Small groups of powerful elites are instrumental in perpetuating many of our challenges -- and they have been impacted by COVID as we all have. With the pandemic, could incentives be shifting, making a crack in some of the underlying forces which have limited our efforts in the past?  

Thinking and Working Politically in the Time of COVID-19

To explore these questions, I pulled together a small group of willing souls, with a shared interest in PEA/TWP and the desire to probe for any possible silver linings for an initial discussion around “Thinking and Working Politically in the Time of COVID-19: Recognizing and Capturing Opportunities.” 

The group, from USAID’s Office of Forestry and Biodiversity, the Office of Health Systems, and USAID Missions in Colombia and Kenya, quickly coalesced around a couple of themes. First, could this moment disrupt barriers to effective collaboration within USAID? With all sectors impacted to varying degrees, the crisis offers the possibility of common language and the potential to shift the way USAID thinks and works as an organization. As a zoonotic disease (which passes to humans from animals or insects), COVID-19 is intimately connected to trade in wildlife. Will this allow a shared understanding to penetrate, namely that such practices threaten not only biodiversity, but also future human health? Could this contribute to a more holistic promotion of health -- sometimes known as “One Health”-- in partner countries, marrying the focus on specific diseases, with a recognition of the importance of the underlying systems -- environmental, social, governance, and others?  

What is One Health?

Another theme:  How can we account for, and manage where appropriate, the further disrupted relationships between citizens and governments in our partner countries? As has been observed in previous disasters, pandemic response is shaping citizen trust in government and other critical institutions. And trust really matters when considering the current and future inclination of people to take recommended precautions: to seek needed healthcare, to accept vaccination once available, to participate appropriately in the economy, or to conform to laws on the wildlife trade. It’s both so important and so fragile -- something I meditate upon often as I pore over the Washington, D.C. government’s COVID-19 data and metrics for reopening and wonder, with so much at stake, do I trust them?

With PEA and TWP as a lens, we can work to maximize the possibility that silver linings are more than a cliche. We begin by working to understand the world that COVID-19 confronted: 

  • What incentives -- formal or informal -- have kept USAID staff in siloed approaches to our work, with lines of communication and work frequently failing to reflect real life?

  • What has been the underlying relationship between citizens and government in our partner countries? Were these forces static or evolving? How has our work impacted the quality of these relationships?

And then we reflect, with these new circumstances, who may see a shift in their own interests? Are there opportunities to support alliances that may not have been possible before?  

Support for New Alliances

In issues large and small it seems like this might just be the case. With the pandemic, elites in many places have seen their ability to travel for health care curtailed. As they confront their new reliance on domestic health services, could increasing investment in those systems be the result? Perhaps. In Nigeria, Africa’s wealthiest man, Aliko Dangote, established the Coalition Against COVID-19, or CACOVID, on March 26, with the mission of mobilizing leadership and resources from the private sector to build the capacity of the health system to respond to the crisis. The coalition achieved a total contributions of $55.7 million for CACOVID in its first two weeks.



Notwithstanding other, more troubling, developments around closing civic space, there are signs of African governments taking an increasingly proactive approach to addressing citizen needs. A majority of African countries have responded to COVID-19 with steps to develop a social safety net for their most vulnerable. Among other government resources dedicated to the COVID-19 response, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa reduced by one-third his salary and those of his ministers, with the funds to be dedicated to economic and social relief measures. This case was referenced by my former colleague, Ashley Quarcoo, as a data point in support of the possibility that COVID-19 could help reduce polarization. In Niger, one of Africa’s poorest countries, the government has assumed responsibility for water and electricity for vulnerable households.  In such responses, could there be something to build upon?

Communities have also shown initiative, coalescing in new ways to respond to the pandemic and its impacts. In South Africa, “Cape Town Together”, has spawned more than 70 Community Action Networks, in neighborhoods across the city of Cape Town and the country as a whole. With a focus on racial and economic diversity within their groups, their experiment is around finding ways of not only responding to the current crisis, but seeding transformation that lasts beyond the pandemic. 

Cape Town Together

Children sit waiting to be fed on what is known as “the battlefield”, where rival gangs often clash in Lavender Hill. Gang violence in the area has subsided since a ceasefire was brokered following the shooting of five-year-old Valentino Grootetjie in December last year. Photo: Brenton Geach https://www.bizcommunity.com/Article/196/700/202875.html

And finally, the pandemic has perhaps offered a unique set of opportunities to youth. With every aspect of life -- including civic engagement -- moving online, young people have seen barriers to their own activism reduced.  Greater access and renewed motivation has resulted, for one, in the surging activism (online) of Chinese youth. Surely this offers an opportunity to explore: how can we build upon this engagement and, when safe to do so, help it to expand beyond the  digital space?

Young people in China

Young people in China campaigning for freedom of speech and accusing the government of hiding the truth about COVID-19. https://www.voanews.com/east-asia-pacific/i-have-obligation-speak-dead

As the world changes around us, we agreed this was a space to watch -- to see where opportunities open, as well as close. 

In the meantime, the quotes I frequently reference to explain the concepts of PEA and TWP have been repurposed as a series of personal mantras. I smile through virtual presentations when my son climbs into my lap, and imagine that one day, I’ll be able to listen as he explains Thinking and Working Politically to his friends.  


COVID-19: Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance Issues and Potential USAID Responses 

Ma3an’s social network analysis: a wellspring of CLA

Jun 30, 2020 by Rafael Pilliard-Hellwig Comments (0)

Measuring Collaboration

For programs like USAID Ma3an, a recurring conundrum is how to measure concepts that are core to civil society projects. How do you quantify collaboration? How do measure resilience? FHI 360 staff had to tackle this difficulty head-on when they placed collaboration at the heart of their theory of change (TOC).

The solution came as a social network analysis (SNA). For the uninitiated, SNA is a quantitative analysis that reveals dynamics between autonomous agents. In its graphical form, it is a network, visualizing the depth, type, frequency and direction of relationships in a system. For its performance indicator percentage of project beneficiaries reporting quality collaboration,’ Ma3an pooled SNA data on the frequency of interactions, diversity of interactions, and diversity of sectors to construct an index of collaboration.

Ma3an completed its baseline SNA in 2019, with plans to repeat the study in 2021 and 2023 to assess evolution of connections density and numbers. Although SNA originally responded to an evaluation need, the monitoring & evaluation (M&E) team saw its potential to inform programming. Over time, the SNA evolved to be a flagship case of utilization-focused evaluation, a philosophy that “begins with the premise that evaluations should be judged by their utility and actual use.”[1] What follows is an account of the SNA’s galvanizing role in bringing about a wave of collaborating, learning, and adapting (CLA).


1. Expanding the Technical Evidence Base to Adapt

When SNA results were shared, staff realized that SNA could enrich the technical evidence base. The analysis showed who was at the margins, which stakeholders carried influence, and how the relationships varied between groups. This information could be used to adjust program activities, justify design choices, and create new interventions.

The SNA highlighted a need for private sector engagement (PSE). The report showed that corporate entities were weakly linked to the networks and to each other, often remaining at the periphery of Ma3an’s target Tunisian communities. A critical insight was that Ma3an needed to work on corporate social responsibility (CSR); SNA results suggested more time and engagements efforts were needed to increase the depth and quality of interactions between the private sector and target communities.

The analysis produced actionable insights by revealing who were the so-called gatekeepers and isolates. Gatekeepers, also known as hubs, are well-connected individuals who bridge sub-communities and are said to have high betweenness centrality. “Both empirical and theoretical results indicate that hubs can have a quite disproportionate effect, playing a central role [in …] resilience, despite being few in number.”[2] Conversely, isolates are individuals with few interactions to the system who tend to be marginalized. Teams used these metrics to strategically select whom to work with and which relationships to build.

For example, Ma3an found that civil society organizations (CSOs) were far more connected to communities than initially supposed and pivoted to involving them as strategic connectors. The analysis also identified key movers. For their community resilience committees  (CRCs)— task forces of some six-to-eight individuals representing communities—Ma3an used the SNA to complement selection criteria: instead of selecting people only based on their engagement, the program also considered how many people they could connect the community to.

The gender equality and social inclusion (GESI) team similarly embraced the trove of findings in the data. The analysis revealed assortative mixing by gender, i.e. that women mostly connected to other women. Furthermore, women seldom held decision-making roles. In contrast, male stakeholders collaborated more frequently and deeply. There were also more degrees of separation between women and given sectors in the network.

From this data, Ma3an’s GESI team made numerous adaptations. It mandated that its local partners work closely with influential women, particularly women who could bridge sectors with isolated female communities and companies, and set quotas on selection. Because the SNA revealed that Disabled Persons Organizations (DPOs) were hubs for reaching mothers, the team more aggressively targeted DPOs. “This readjustment on how we target was the big thing that the SNA did for us,” says Asma Ayari, the Ma3an GESI Advisor.

The SNA provided hard data on the quality of women’s social relations — data that are often lacking or merely exist anecdotally. Moving into the mature phases of the project, Ayari said she would closely follow new iterations of the SNA. “We want to see if age group homophily changed or not, if women from different sectors are connected, and if they are interacting more with men. If women in the private sector connected more [than at baseline], then the heightened collaboration could mean more job opportunities for other women.”

For some, the SNA baseline was a sobering reminder that learning does not always sync with planning. “Timing is everything,” says Slim Yaich, the Technical Advisor on Ma3an.  Although the SNA produced rich technical insights, the findings came after many of Yaich’s interventions were in motion. “If possible, it would be great to do the future SNAs before our CSAPs, as this could inform stakeholder selection.”


2. Scenario Planning for Self-Reliance

In development circles, scalability and self-reliance are hot topics. To paraphrase Larry Cooley, the success of interventions ought to be judged less by what you can add, and more by what you can remove.

For the Ma3an sustainability team, the SNA allowed them to engage in exactly this type of thinking. Using baseline data, they looked at what would happen if project-funded partners were removed from networks. The experiment showed that certain communities were heavily dependent on Ma3an’s partners. Staff not only found that certain interventions would have weak links post-Ma3an, but could point to clusters of beneficiaries who were likely to struggle to be self-reliant.

Taha Yousfi, Ma3an’s Sustainability Advisor, saw that the SNA underscored the need for a self-reliance strategy that focused on creating enduring relationships. “Today, the Ma3an sustainability approach is not only about the activities or physical structures,” explains Yousfi. “It is also about the dynamics, about the collaborative approach, and sustaining the dialogue spaces.” Using the SNA data, Yousfi worked with staff and partners to plan exit strategies before launching initiatives. “We cannot work on sustainability later . The local partners will be out of the picture in a few months, and they hold all the cards— they connect all the dots,” says Yousfi. “Once the intervention ends, the local partners will not be as active as they used to be.”

Similar scenario analyses were done looking at government representatives within networks. SNA uncovered some important realizations for scalability. On first blush, the analysis suggested that some of the most connected agents were appointed individuals from government delegations. These individuals moved constantly between one community to the other and were great connectors. But a deeper analysis showed that as these individuals were appointed by government officials, their tenure in those stations would be short-lived. As a result, the team selected individuals who were well networked and likely to remain as lasting figures in the community.

Interventions scale when they are taken up by governments or markets in the long run, and the SNA gave Ma3an the tools to examine both. Using the SNA, Ma3an integrates sustainability discussions from the beginning. “We are working on a miniature version of an exit strategy with the local partners and community stakeholders to gradually transfer all the responsibilities from the local partners—the organization that is contracted by FHI 360—to the community members. It is a big win to have strong data to measure the transition,” says Yousfi. (See Box 1)


3. M&E for Learning and Theory of Change

Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) practitioners will tell you that theory of change is as much a product as it is a process. Yet in a world preoccupied with deliverables and deadlines, the latter is often overlooked. What Ma3an found is that their SNA ushered a surge of TOC-as-a-process: With the SNA shared, staff proponents of the analysis proliferated, and soon everyone began discussing the implications of the findings on their interventions. As one MEL team member put it, it shifted the question to “are we doing things right” to “are we doing the right things?”

A data-driven culture followed after the SNA was presented. “When we started the SNA study, it was something strange for the team,” says Amel Hammami, the analyst leading the study. “Staff didn’t know what we meant and for them it was something complicated. But after [when they saw the sociograms], the whole team started talking about SNA” and using it in their work an planning. In this way, SNA drummed up enthusiasm in using M&E data for learning.

The SNA not only expanded the audience for theory-of-change discussions, it let teams consider theories in parallel. “The SNA gave us a million ways to look at things,” says Hammami. Staff began engaging in multi-track thinking, because different networks implied different needs. “You would think that you cannot take a tailored specific approach for each community,” says Yousfi. “But the SNA says different. You have to take the characteristics of each community into account.” If there had been any doubt, the SNA reinforced the idea for all that cookie cutter approaches would not work.

For example, in hyperconnected communities like rural Laaroussa, interventions could not look the same and have similar dynamics to disconnected urban community of Sousse Riadh. In the latter more of an effort needed to be made to bring people together and demonstrate the win-win aspects of collaboration.


A Boon for CLA

Executives are constantly looking for game changers: power moves that will transform the way business is done. In Ma3an’s case, social network analysis proved to be one such game changer. Starting as a mechanism for indicator reporting, the foray outgrew is initial purpose and became a lodestone for CLA. The adaptations from the SNA learning made Ma3an’s interventions more strategic, inclusive, and collaborative. Will Ma3an’s programs scale? Will the relationships built between government, private sector, and community actors endure? No one has a crystal ball, but SNA stimulated the long-term thinking to give Ma3an’s communities the best shot at becoming resilient and self-reliant.

Ma3an ("Together" in Arabic) is a 5 year project implemented by FHI360 and over 30 international and Tunisian NGOs. It aims to provide 33 of Tunisi'a most vulnerable communities with the tools and resrouces needed to build resilience in order for them to withstand political, social and economic stresses and shocks.  #Ma3an_Tunisia

[1] Patton MQ. Utilization-focused evaluation, 4th edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage; 2008.

[2] Newman ME. Networks: an introduction. Oxford: Oxford UP; 2010.

Filed Under: CLA in Action

How do I integrate CLA into my activity? Approaches from start to finish

Jun 24, 2020 by Sarah Schmidt Comments (0)

Graphic Recording from September 2017

I’ve had the privilege to lead the USAID LEARN contract from start to finish. I was employee number one as Deputy and I’ll be the last one to leave as Chief of Party (COP). 


As you might know, LEARN was designed to support USAID in becoming a better learning organization with the intent of creating a more effective development organization. No small task with an organization as large as USAID. But, in trying to achieve this hefty goal, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned, and experiences I have enjoyed the most, during this journey is the importance of modeling change that you seek. On LEARN we took this to heart and it became one of our core values as a team - Walking the Talk. There is a whole section of our End of Contract Report devoted to it. But, what does that mean as a program manager, how do you operationalize it in your contract? 


Here’s a little of what I’ve learned along the way on how you integrate CLA from start to finish.



The beginning is the most fun for me. It is often chaotic and a lot of hurry up and wait. But it is also when you get to be the most creative and curious, and most importantly establish a team's culture and norms. [Check out a whole blog series from LEARN’s first Chief of Party, Piers Bocock, Working Smarter, to learn more.] More specifically it is a critical time for resourcing CLA and creating the networks and relationships to sustain it throughout the life of the contract.

  • Resourcing. We learned pretty early on that we weren’t hiring for specific experience or qualifications, but for mindsets and competencies. Chief among them, adaptability and a growth mindset. But how do you hire for that? We didn’t always get it right, but we did learn from each experience and got better over time. Here’s a guide that we created with USAID-based evidence 1 and our experience.  Additionally, we learned that process facilitation was a skill needed across the entire team - from operations to technical specialist. With USAID approval, the contract invested in training staff who had no or limited previous facilitation capacity.  In the end, no matter what your technical sector we should all be development facilitators, not development practitioners. 

  • Relationships and Networks. Being good development facilitators, we worked hard to create strong partnerships with our USAID counterparts.  This meant weekly meetings with our Contracting Officer's Representative (COR), COR weekly office hours with the team, and establishing diffused authorities with LEARN staff and other USAID activity managers outside of the COP/COR traditional communication and work channels. This was a different way of working for staff and USAID alike. To support teams in relationship management we created processes and simple tools like detailed scoping documents focused on behavior change and established clear roles and responsibilities through RACI charts.  



The middle of the contract is usually when you are in your stride with all cylinders engaged. This is also the time when monitoring and adapting is key to know that your stride is in the right direction towards the goals you set out during start-up. It is also a time to take stock, be reflective, and recognize your successes, learnings, and all of the individual contributions that got you to this point.

  • Monitoring and adapting. Obviously monitoring and adapting should happen throughout the life of a contract. But midway is a good time to pause, review data, and ask critical questions like, were our assumptions correct? Are we seeing the results we expected? Do we have the right data to make the decisions we need? Modeling this, USAID requires missions to conduct Strategy Mid-Course Stocktakings

  • Appreciation. Again, appreciation should be a continual practice, but the middle is a good place to intentionally reflect on the bigger picture and recognize collective and individual successes and learning. On LEARN, we held an annual Big Picture Reflections that included clients. This type of joint reflection and appreciation reinforced our norms and values of collaboration, co-creation, and co-accountability.



This is where my five and half year journey finds me now. Like many contracts, LEARN had extensions, rebids, and followed the full USAID procurement cycle. Managing a team through that bumpy process was not easy. It was stressful and emotional, but also unifying and rewarding. We were very intentional about integrating CLA into our closeout process by focusing on the enabling conditions we felt most critical to successfully sustaining our work and the team.

  • Staff retention. This is not to say only focus on staff retention at the end of the contract, but this is when retention gets really tricky to manage. In earlier stages of the contract we focused on trust, appreciation, autonomy, work-life balance, etc. to retain staff. But, as you get to the end the uncertainty of employment starts to outweigh the other benefits you have created for a team. So how do you keep the equibruim and keep staff?  First, you need to address the stress. Call it out, talk about it, let the team be open and honest about the stress and the emotions that go along with it. Second, use the tools at your disposal to help decrease the stress. We offered staff retention bonuses (approved and billable to the contract) and corporate “soft landings” to provide a longer runway. We also held team clinics on CV writing, interviewing, networking, and future planning. 

  • Institutional memory and knowledge management.  This is much easier if you have been diligent about managing your knowledge along the way. Meaning, you have captured, shared, and stored your learning and data in a usable and accessible format. But even then, there is always a scramble or a fear that you have missed something at the end. To help alleviate this start early, at least a year. Have conversations with your clients about what they need and how they are going to use it. There is a tendency to want everything, just in case, but the key is to help them think through how and what they are going to use it for. Too much information ends up being overwhelming and ultimately not useful. Beyond files, make sure to have conversations around tacit knowledge. Who needs to better understand the context of your work so they can carry it forward or iterate upon it. 

  • Celebration. Lastly, don’t forget to take time and celebrate as a team. Close-out gives a unique perspective and appreciation for what was achieved and learned. And while we celebrated what we achieved - our reach to almost all USAID missions, almost 400 CLA champions, 344 CLA cases collected, etc. - we found we were most proud of how we achieved it - the relationships we made, the culture we built, and the fun we had along the way!



1. Individuals who are curious, have “growth mindsets,” and are able to empathize with their colleagues are generally better able to adapt to changing circumstances. Bain, Booth, & Wild, 2016; Dweck, Walton, & Cohen, 2014; “Adapting Aid,” 2016; Derbyshire & Donovan, 2016; Honig & Gulrajani, 2017.

Adaptive Leadership in COVID-19 Response

Jun 16, 2020 by Andrew Wells-Dang and Emily Janoch Comments (0)

Like many international humanitarian organizations and donors, CARE International is increasingly employing a politically smart approach to adaptive management throughout our global programs. “Politically smart” means that CARE and our partners engage with changing power dynamics – especially concerning gender and other forms of exclusion – and broker relationships among government, civil society, and business stakeholders. Adaptive management recognizes that we work in complex and volatile contexts with continually shifting needs, barriers and drivers of change. We support locally led program designs that center the voices of people in the communities we serve, with fast feedback loops and “small bets” to manage risk and promote innovation. CARE’s Rapid Gender Analysis (RGA) methodology is based on the understanding that humanitarian response is necessarily imperfect, iterative, and practical.  These efforts align with insights from the Thinking and Working Politically community and the Doing Development Differently manifesto.

The COVID-19 pandemic is changing both the ways we work and the content of our programs, as all of CARE’s humanitarian, development and advocacy programs adapt to the new reality of the pandemic. As of June 8, CARE has life-saving humanitarian crisis response and/or COVID-19 adaptations underway in 64 countries; 55 of these countries have completed or are contributing to an RGA, and at least 32 countries are advocating with their national governments to improve their COVID responses. Globally, CARE has reached 9.2 million people with direct COVID-related services and more than 134.2 million people with access to vital information about the crisis. But much more is needed, and to contribute to a larger-scale response and eventual recovery that “builds back equal”, we need to work with others: local and national governments, as well as global organizations and the private sector.

Among the adaptive, politically-smart approaches CARE is taking are the following:

  • Brokering new partnerships: In dozens of countries, CARE is working with local NGOs and other INGOs to influence the UN-led Humanitarian Response Plans. CARE Egypt created a National Initiative for COVID-19, including the National Council for Women (NCW), Catholic Relief Services, Save the Children, Plan International, and Ministry of Social Solidarity. CARE is also coordinating a committee on gender-based violence (GBV) established under the umbrella of the NCW with six Egyptian women’s rights organizations.
  • Best-fit strategies that support existing government initiatives: In Sierra Leone, CARE has taken a lead role in the Emergency Operations Center with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation and the Freetown City Council, including community influencers in city training events. In Thailand, CARE staff are serving as hotline focal points for COVID-19 information in Myanmar and Cambodian languages. In Sudan, CARE is helping the Ministry of Health access masks and gloves for crucial medical services. And the CARE India team built the information management system that state governments are adopting to manage COVID-19 information.
  • Supporting the voices of women-led organizations: In West Bank/Gaza, CARE is coordinating with women-led organizations to discuss gendered impacts of COVID-19. CARE Honduras is supporting women’s rights organizations to advocate for a law that requires gender equality in the measures that the government is taking to respond to COVID-19.
  • Collaborating creatively: In Bangladesh, the CARE team is working with Skilled Health Entrepreneurs—women in the private sector who charge a small fee for delivering health messages and supplies. In Sri Lanka, Manussakama Pure Water, a social enterprise CARE supports, is marketing self-designed hand-washing basins using oil drums.
  • Generating context-specific evidence—especially about impacts on women: CARE Malawi is working with the government to understand what women need in crisis. In Bangladesh, the team coordinated the national needs assessment process for COVID-19. CARE Ecuador has organized national virtual forums as a basis for policy recommendations to the government. And in Cambodia, CARE is the only organization conducting gender-specific analysis.

There is a lot we still don’t know about the pandemic and its effects in the global South. Findings from a West Africa RGA, as well as in other regions and countries, indicate that for many women, the social and economic impacts of food shortages and livelihood losses outweigh the perceived health risks of COVID-19. GBV rates are rising at rates of up to 33 percent worldwide as women are forced to quarantine together with their abusers. And over the whole situation hangs the specter of a coronavirus spike that could overwhelm the health facilities of poorer countries. In face of these threats, CARE is nevertheless seeing initial positive outcomes from our COVID-19 responses and advocacy:

  • Governments are putting gender at the center of their response. In Malawi, the government is partnering with CARE to conduct an RGA so they can build responses that support women. In Bangladesh, the national needs assessment includes a focus on women and what they need. The European External Action Service, with input from CARE, has released a declaration on Gender, GBV, and sexual and reproductive health on behalf of the EU.
  • Local leaders are mobilizing responses. In Bangladesh, CARE is supporting local administration to set up isolation centers for suspected cases of COVID-19 and to build hand-washing facilities in different crowded locations. In Burkina Faso, health centers are training and supporting community-based health workers to educate others about COVID-19. In Rwanda, the government has mobilized 400 health workers to start contact tracing.
  • Responses are keeping people safe. In Mozambique, the government has adapted all of its distribution processes for goods and cash to respect social distancing.
  • Humanitarian workers can still support people. In countries like Kenya, Ghana, Sudan, and others, governments are re-classifying humanitarian workers as essential staff who can continue their work and support the people who need it most.

Over the coming months, CARE will monitor the progress of our adaptive responses through a bi-weekly global situation report and our suite of advocacy monitoring, evaluation and learning tools. We expect that new challenges will emerge, as both the coronavirus itself and human reactions to it remain highly unpredictable. One thing is certain: COVID-19 is not only a world-shaking health crisis, but also a social and political event with immense consequences. We will need all the approaches and adaptations in our toolbox to keep up with it.

Adapting In Response To COVID-19 Public Health Restrictions

Jun 11, 2020 by Andie Procopio Comments (1)

Graduating to Resilience Adapted Implementation to Align with Public Health Restrictions to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19. This photo shows a farming group that reduced in size to keep participants safe. / Farming Group After COVID-19 Restrictions


Graduating to Resilience (the Activity) is a USAID Office of Food for Peace (FFP) funded Activity led by AVSI Foundation in partnership with IMPAQ International and Trickle Up, which seeks to test the Graduation Approach’s ability to graduate ultra-poor refugee and host community households (HHs) in Western Uganda from conditions of food insecurity and fragile livelihoods to self-reliance and resilience.



In early February 2020, during our second theory of change workshop, a team member asked if we needed to consider coronavirus in our assumptions. She was quickly dismissed as participants asked, “Is coronavirus in Uganda?” “Is it posing a threat to our communities?” One month later, on 17 March, Activity leadership provided guidance to field staff to be sure accurate and consistent messaging about COVID-19 was reaching all employees and subsequently, all participants. Messaging included COVID-19 prevention such as handwashing; not touching eyes, nose, and mouth; staff use of hand sanitizer; understanding symptoms of COVID-19; staying home if someone has flu-like symptoms; and reporting to a health center, if necessary.

The situation escalated quickly from there. On 18 March, President Museveni addressed the nation and announced 13 restrictions, including a ban on groups larger than 10 people for 30 days. To respond to these directives, the Activity temporary disbanded Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs) and the group coaching component of the Activity. Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) trainings that were scheduled to take place the following week were modified so that no more than 10 people would be at a training location at one time.

However, during these trainings on 25 March, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) informed AVSI personnel that they could not implement any components of the Activity as only health projects could continue during the COVID-19 restrictions. This severe interpretation of the national restrictions imposed by the Ministry of Health (MOH) came as a total surprise, but AVSI complied and stopped all field operations. On 31 March, President Museveni officially locked down the country.



The initial response of Graduating to Resilience was to suspend all field activities. The safety of participants and field staff was of utmost importance. What can we do if people cannot meet in groups or visit the homes of participants?

The first step in the mindset change from “There is nothing we can do” to “We should try to do something” came from the Monitoring, Evaluation, Research and Learning (MERL) team, who came up with a plan for remote data collection. Quarterly and bi-annual data collection was supposed to occur in April, but due to these restrictions this effort was initially suspended. The MERL team developed a standard operating procedure (SOP) to guide remote data collection. This SOP included: increasing airtime to field-based staff who would collect the data, revise the data collection tools so they were shorter and easier to administer on the phone, and sample the participants rather than collect data from all primary participants.

But rolling out this remote data collection was not as easy as planned. The team first had to understand cell phone penetration among participants. The last data collected with this information was in early 2019 at the start of implementation during a gender assessment that revealed 64% of female and 78% of male respondents in the host community owned a mobile phone. Whereas in the refugee population, 50% of female respondents noted they owned a mobile phone as compared to 68% of refugee male respondents. If this was still the case, the team worried cell phone ownership was too low for remote data collection, however the team suspected cell phone ownership had increased since the start of the Activity. Learning this information prior to remote data collection was essential to know if it was feasible. Another SOP was developed for this context assessment on cell phone ownership as well as a data collection tool to measure:

  • Do primary participants own phones?
  • If yes, verify the phone number.
  • If no, is there a phone in the HH?
  • Whose phone is it?
  • Can the participant access it?
  • Does access require permission for use?
  • Are phone charging options readily available?

In short, we learned that cell phone ownership among primary participants increased to about 80% and access to a cell phone increased to about 99%. The team then felt comfortable rolling out the quarterly and bi-annual data collection.

Along with routine data collection, the MERL team also developed tools to understand the current context since the public health restrictions in response to COVID-19 were put in place in the Rwamwanja Refugee Settlement and the surrounding sub-counties where the Activity is implementing.

The three context tools deployed measured:

  • COVID Participant Awareness: to understand if participants were receiving information, how they were receiving information, and if they were able to comply with the recommendations, etc.
  • COVID Participant Experience: How were the restrictions affecting business, how were HHs adapting, what coping strategies were they using, were they able to get ANC, did they know where to get support for gender-based violence (GBV), market prices for certain goods, etc.
  • COVID Market Research 1 and 2: these were split into two surveys because they were quite long. The design was modified from the Rapid Assessments of Markets (RAM) and looked at operations, supply chain, prices, consumer behavior, etc.

Combined, these three assessments have helped Technical Advisors structure messages to be sent via SMS or Interactive Voice Response (IVR) as well as coaching messages to be sure participants are receiving all necessary information about COVID-19 restrictions and safety. This information is also being used to be sure participants are receiving relevant support to maintain their businesses in the new context.



While the team rolled out the data collection and began analyzing the data from the context assessments and routine monitoring, we learned that more could be done remotely than we initially thought possible. The team engaged in a scenario planning exercise. Using an Excel spreadsheet, the team first created three columns:

  • Current state
  • Scenario 1: lock down ends, but some restrictions remain
  • Scenario 2: lock down continues for another 21 days

For each scenario, the team then discussed:

  • Brief description of the scenario
  • The impact of the scenario: what happens after that scenario occurs?
  • How each component of the Activity will be implemented in that scenario (components included but are not limited to: data collection, group and individual coaching, VSLA, business coaching, referrals, nutrition screening, team meetings)
  • Cross-cutting considerations such as increased airtime and data for field staff; Personal Protective Equipment for field staff; sensitizing local leaders, partners, and participants on our activities, etc.

Portion of Scenario Planning Tool

The Technical Advisors then created SOPs for their respective components so that when the President announced his decision on 5 May the team could inform field staff quickly of how to move forward. In this case, the President continued the lockdown for 14 more days, and so Scenario 2 was put into place.



Activity leadership is finalizing an MOU with a technology company who can provide SMS and IVR messaging. But while waiting for this messaging, we learned there is so much that can be done using basic cell phone technology, such as phone calls and conference calling. Even while in full lockdown, we have been able to modify our programming successfully across different components, and the table below highlights some of these modifications:

Examples of How Particular Components Were Adapted



There are more solutions than you may think. We were able to switch our mindset from suspending all activities to finding solutions to implementing all activities remotely using low-level technology like basic cell phones. Our achievements can be attributed to:

  • Not underestimating the ingenuity of our team
  • Capitalizing on the willingness of our team to make things work
  • Testing something, not being afraid to fail, refining approaches, and quickly scaling up successes
  • Utilizing our local community of practice to learn from and share experiences

A Closer Look at the LEARN End of Contract Report: Part 1

Jun 8, 2020 by Sarah Schmidt, Monalisa Salib Comments (0)

In September 2014, USAID’s Office of Learning, Evaluation & Research within the Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning awarded the Knowledge Management and Learning (LEARN) contract to Dexis and subcontractor RTI. LEARN’s primary purpose was to support organizational change at USAID. More specifically, the contract was designed to help USAID staff integrate collaborating, learning, and adapting (CLA) approaches into program design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation. It was clear that most staff, whether they realized it or not, were already integrating CLA into their work to some extent. The focus of the contract's efforts, therefore, was to make those CLA practices more systematic, intentional, resourced, and ultimately more widespread throughout the Agency, thereby having a ripple effect on implementing partners and other stakeholders, such as host country governments. As the contract comes to a close, the team involved shares the lessons they’ve learned through this five and a half year change management effort.

In Chapter 1, you’ll find out more about what LEARN was able to achieve as a result of its partnership with the CLA team and 32 buy-in clients from across the Agency and 14 USAID missions. When LEARN began in 2014, very little was documented about what CLA was or how to do it. At the time, 32 missions that were collaborating, learning, or adapting in relatively small ways. By late 2015, the CLA team and LEARN co-created the CLA Framework and CLA Maturity Tool that provided common language for CLA and articulated how it could show up in and support the team’s work. Building off this foundation, LEARN worked throughout the contract to show that CLA was an effective set of practices to improve organizational effectiveness and development results.

By the contract’s end in early 2020, LEARN had collected robust examples from 61 USAID missions of their systematic, intentional, and resourced approach to CLA via the CLA Case Competition; had worked with all of the Agency’s technical and regional bureaus on CLA integration; had catalogued hundreds of instances of CLA integration; and had amassed an over 500-person strong CLA Community of Practice within the Agency. Beyond the numbers, the LEARN team had countless stories and qualitative feedback from our clients and stakeholders that CLA integration was creating positive change in their teams and units. You’ll also see in Chapter 1 the team’s realization (which seems painfully obvious but is overlooked by so many) that people create organizational change; they either decide to work in certain ways or don’t. It comes down to the decisions they make and behaviors they exhibit day in, day out. Therefore, at the heart of LEARN’s theory of change is the notion that individual CLA champions within the Agency are the key drivers of individual behavior change, which is a necessary precursor to organizational change.

LEARN’s core work then became more focused on identifying, supporting, and strengthening the capacity of CLA champions across the Agency. The team provided them with evidence that intentional CLA efforts lead to more effective development programming; facilitated learning based processes that strengthened USAID’s Program Cycle; and developed and curated CLA tools and resources, training, and communities to build CLA skills and capacity.

Read the full report to learn more!


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