Lucky #7: Meet the Updated CLA Framework, Version 7

Oct 4, 2016 by Jessica Ziegler Comments (0)

In our ongoing efforts to articulate what we mean by CLA, we are pleased to announce Version 7 of the CLA Framework. For those of you loyal Learning Lab blog readers who have gotten used to seeing the colorful circular CLA Framework in our posts (especially in the recent series by my colleague Monalisa Salib), we promise that we haven't made hasty or wholesale changes. In fact, the building blocks (CLA in the Program Cycle and Enabling Conditions) and the components (Collaborating, Learning, Adapting, Culture, Processes, and Resources) haven't changed. Instead, Version 7 is all about being more clear and direct with how we explain the subcomponents of CLA. We thought about making a "spot the difference" puzzle out of it, but figured it might be easier to just share the changes with you:

ComponentOld SubcomponentNew Subcomponent
LearningGame Changers & Scenario PlanningScenario Planning
AdaptingApplicationAdaptive Management
CultureRelationship-BuildingRelationships & Networks
ProcessesKnowledge Cycle & SourcesKnowledge Management

So if the changes are so small, you might wonder why we bothered to develop another version.

Just as USAID has made a major push over the last year to reflect on its programmatic processes, collect feedback from staff, and update its guidance, we’ve also been following a similar process. The development of the CLA Framework has been iterative and user-driven from the very beginning. As we worked to create and refine the CLA Maturity Matrix—a participatory, in-person tool to help USAID missions self-assess their CLA practices and plan for incremental improvements—over the past year and a half, the CLA Framework evolved as an organizing principle for the matrix. In testing the matrix and framework with stakeholders, including mission staff, USAID/Washington staff, and implementing partners, we were able to collect, analyze, and incorporate incredibly useful feedback that has helped us to strengthen both the matrix tool and the underlying framework. We made the bulk of the changes to Version 7 in the matrix, but as explained above, some of the feedback did directly impact the framework.

For example, we found when working with mission staff, especially FSNs, that our use of the term "game changers" could be confusing as it doesn't always translate well and is often associated with groundbreaking technologies. Application turned out to be too generic and didn't stand alone as a term unless coupled with its parent CLA component of Adapting, whereas Adaptive Management is a key focus of the new USAID Program Cycle guidance. People often had trouble distinguishing between Relationship-Building and Collaborating, while Relationships & Networks is meant to imply more of a systems focus. And finally, Knowledge Cycle & Sources was just too jargony (although not everyone would agree that Knowledge Management is better, but at least it is an industry-recognized term).

To learn more about the iterative process of developing the CLA Framework and Maturity Matrix, please read our CLA Case Competition entry. And the iterative process won’t stop here, even if #7 is a lucky number. As we continue to collaborate, learn, and adapt ourselves, we will also continue to collect and review feedback to inform future updates to the framework and matrix, albeit at a slower pace moving forward. As always, stay tuned to Learning Lab to learn more!

And now for a simple walk-through of the CLA Framework, Version 7. Click on an area of the framework for an informal overview of the CLA building blocks, components, and subcomponents.

Building Blocks:

  • CLA in the Program Cycle: Our day-to-day work and how collaborating, learning, and adapting is incorporated into strategy, project design, implementation, and M&E.
  • Enabling Conditions: The unspoken norms within our organization as well as the systems and processes in place to facilitate CLA.

Components and Subcomponents:

Collaborating: Being intentional about identifying key stakeholders; promoting collaboration that makes sense with the right people for the right reasons.

  • How well do we collaborate internally?
  • How well do we collaborate externally?

Learning: Understanding what knowledge is important to make decisions since we can’t know everything.

  • Are we identifying our technical evidence base and making a systematized effort to understand and fill in gaps?
  • Are we testing our theories of change in an intentional way?
  • Are we identifying potential risks and opportunities, and engaging in scenario planning to strategize on how to address them?
  • Are our M&E efforts helpful in informing decision-making for current and future programming?

Adapting: Taking the time to consider our learning through opportunities to get out of the day-to-day and look at the bigger picture; if we don’t take time to think, we may miss opportunities or go down the wrong path.

  • Are we holding Pause & Reflect activities in a timely and quality manner that results in learning?
  • Are we effectively applying adaptive management approaches to act on what we learn?

Culture: Our organization’s unspoken norms in terms of being comfortable sharing opinions and ideas, hearing different perspectives, taking action on different ideas, and continuing to improve.

  • Can people be open? Do we create safe spaces to have candid conversations no matter who is in the room?
  • Do we have strong relationships and networks throughout the system we operate in that are based on trust, knowledge sharing, and good communication?
  • Does mission leadership value learning and model that behavior to enable continuous improvement?

Processes: Having the processes in place to operationalize learning.

  • We generate a lot of information, but are we adopting appropriate knowledge management practices to capture, distill, and share what we learn?
  • Are we effectively maintaining our institutional memory for easy access to our collective knowledge? Is knowledge from all staff, including FSNs and departing FSOs, systematically captured and  shared as part of our onboarding processes?
  • Are there clear processes around decision-making and enough autonomy for staff to feel empowered?

Resources: What resources exist to support our CLA efforts (e.g., a learning advisor, support mechanism, etc.) and do they meet existing needs?

  • Within the mission, do staff incorporate CLA into their scope and workload, with sufficient support from the Program Office, champions, and support mechanisms?
  • Do we support CLA in implementing mechanisms by including it in mechanism designs, scopes, and budgets? Are we able and ready to support our partners as they seek to implement CLA practices themselves?


When we get to CLA City…

May 6, 2016 by Jessica Ziegler Comments (0)

In this third and final post about the recent CLA Peer Sharing Event attended by CLA champions in five African USAID missions, I want to share the participants’ vision for what they hope to build as a result of their CLA efforts. After spending three days discussing their CLA journey and helping one another think through ways to remove obstacles from their path, the facilitator for the closing session asked everyone to imagine that they’ve finally made it. “When we get to CLA City, what will we find?” she asked.

Hand-drawn CLA Vision Graphic

While everyone recognized that CLA is a process (really a tailored set of relevant practices and approaches) rather than a goal in and of itself, the various visions of CLA City, and the road to get there, were inspiring and offered many common themes:

  • The road to CLA City may be bumpy, but we have to walk the talk of CLA by learning and adapting as we go and celebrating and scaling our successes. We need to have rest stops (aka learning moments or pause & reflect opportunities) along the way to ensure we are on the right path.
  • There are a lot of entry points into CLA City and we need to balance having a vision and staying flexible and open to new CLA opportunities.
  • CLA City is a place built by and for everyone—CLA has to be participatory and engage everyone.
  • CLA City should have at its center a monument of the people we are serving as a reminder that we don’t do CLA for its own sake, but in order to effect better development and achieve stronger results for them for and with them.

CLA is a Journey: Reflections on a CLA Peer Sharing Event

May 4, 2016 by Lorine Ghabranious, Jessica Ziegler Comments (0)

Lorine Ghabranious is a Learning Fellow with the USAID Africa Bureau and Jessica Ziegler is a Learning Specialist with the USAID LEARN contract that supports the USAID Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning.

As described earlier this week in “CLA in Action: Five Missions Gather to Learn from Each Other,” USAID/Uganda recently hosted a CLA Peer Sharing Event in Kampala, Uganda that brought together staff from five different missions, as well as Washington-based representatives (namely, us, your blog authors). Peers in various stages of their CLA maturity met for three days of honest exchange about some of their current challenges, as well as successes, on their CLA journey so far.

Below are some of our observations from the week:

Lorine: Reflections from a Learning Fellow

Image of people meeting to discuss CLA during CLA Week

Your entry point into CLA isn’t as important as joining the journey.

One mission drew similarities between the CLA journey and a railway turntable, noting that the point of entry isn’t the same for all. Entry opportunities may look like a restructured portfolio review, a mid-point stock-taking exercise, or even strong leadership support. Where and how you begin isn’t as important as setting intention and focus on these efforts once on the track.

Creating an Enabling Environment

One of the building blocks of the CLA framework is an enabling environment. USAID/Uganda shared their evolution of the “Mission of Leaders, “ which encourages all staff to be leaders by showcasing how they continually “walk the talk” with action and strategy. While it has taken time for such an environment to be developed and fostered, staff have a better understanding of each other and feel empowered. So much of CLA depends on relationships and at the heart, people.

Pause and Reflect

It is safe to say that working within development is complex but CLA can provide the much needed time and space to take a step back, ask the hard questions, and have the necessary conversations. By intentionally pausing, reflecting, and building in the flexibility to adapt, missions highlighted how they are able proactively course correct and support more effective development goals.

Use Context to Monitor

Especially in complex environments, having a pulse on what is happening on the ground goes a long way. It is important to scan our environment and observe what is going on around us. Complexity-Aware Monitoring (CAM) can help to ensure that our M&E is taking into account the pace of change, blind spots, and the consideration of relationships, perspectives and boundaries.

Jessica: Yes, and...

I had many of the same observations (especially about how CLA looks different for everyone and about the importance of the culture and enabling conditions for CLA) about the participating missions’ CLA journeys. I’d also like to offer some additions thoughts:

Balancing strategic and opportunistic CLA

Although participants talked about the need to set a vision for their CLA journey to help them be strategic in how they collaborate, learn, and adapt, this doesn’t mean defining a monolithic CLA strategy from the outset and sticking to it come hell or high water. It is important to also keep an eye out for opportunities to inject CLA into processes and practices as they arise. If CLA helps strengthen that particular process or practice, it can be incorporated into the strategy—learning and adapting in action!

Roles, responsibilities, and resources

A dedicated CLA champion is a necessary, but not sufficient, resource. In addition, others must see how they play a role in collaborating, learning, and adapting. Maybe it’s a Project Management Team leader who helps facilitate synergies across various activities within the Project through joint work planning. Maybe it’s an M&E point of contact who helps their team develop a learning agenda to guide context monitoring efforts. Maybe it’s a Contracting Officer who can advise technical staff on using more adaptable mechanism types. And because all of these things take time, it’s definitely a leadership team who support and encourage staff to practice CLA.

AORs and CORs are another critical resource for CLA—they set the tone with implementing partners, who in turn, have their own roles and responsibilities in putting CLA into action. And none of this is perfectly free—even if we try our best not to be additive. As one chief of party who participated in CLA Peer Sharing Event said, “there is a cost to collaborating, learning, and adapting, but the cost of not doing it is much higher.”

KM—A tough nut to crack

Despite all of the research and literature on knowledge management “best practices,” this is still an area where many in the development industry struggle, especially since we are so geographically dispersed, context-driven, and deal with a workforce constantly in flux with staff transitions. Beyond talk of systems  (which is a rabbit hole we wish to avoid, even if it did come up during the CLA Peer Sharing Event), the missions recognize the need to address expectations and behaviors. We’ll keep our eyes and ears open as missions like Southern Africa work to crack this nut as part of their CLA journey.

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