Learning about Learning in the Philippines: Stories from a Cross-sectoral Learning Summit

Sep 18, 2018 by Josephine Francisco, Meagan Meekins, Rajeev Colaço Comments (0)

This blog post was contributed by Josephine (Josie) Francisco of USAID Philippines and Meagan Meekins and Rajeev Colaço of RTI International.

RTI’s Monitoring, Evaluation, Research, Learning, and Adapting (MERLA) Community of Practice hosted an event titled “From learning to adapting: How do we get to learning, and where do we go from there?” in the Philippines to discuss USAID's Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting (CLA) approach. This summit was an in-country follow up event to a similar Learning Symposium that we hosted in Washington, DC, in May 2018. We wanted to share experiences from the field related to learning and adapting and hold discussions about how we can move beyond traditional M&E practices to a more dynamic learning and adapting model. While USAID missions and partners have long been collaborating, learning, and adapting in various forms, USAID/Philippines recently made its approach to CLA much more intentional by launching the CLA for Improved Health (CLAimHealth) project. Given USAID/Philippines’ long history of cross-sectoral development programming that has adapted through the years with significant contextual changes, we saw an opportunity for rich discussion as the Philippines begins its journey towards learning and adapting. Speakers in the Philippines Learning Summit included:

The event brought together an audience of nearly 140 individuals who contributed to a rich and engaging discussion on CLA, representing a wide spectrum of international development sectors.

RTI Learning Event

Here are a few of our top takeaways from the event:  

Collaborate, learn, and adapt - like a camel

During the keynote, Josie challenged participants to be more like a camel. After a pause for laughter and bewildered looks, we heard all the ways that camels are great role models for thinking about CLA. First, camels always travel in a pack. They know they are better off when they work together, or COLLABORATE. Second, the camel depends heavily on its eyes. Camels have three eyelids to protect their eyes from the harsh desert sand, because their eyes lead them to where they need to go. They constantly LEARN from their surroundings and make decisions about where to go. And lastly, they are highly ADAPTABLE. They have evolved to hold fat in their humps as a backup source of energy for when they do not have access to food and water, thereby ensuring their survival.  

There is no one right way to do CLA

Throughout the day participants shared some of their successful examples of CLA tools and approaches, including monthly data review guides, pause and reflect sessions, and learning agendas.  There is not just one but rather many right ways to do CLA because doing CLA the right way is context specific and context driven. The ENVISION activity discussed how local solutions were key to solving local problems, and that CLA processes, such as learning from M&E data with their Data for Action tool, allowed them to find these context-specific solutions. It is important to think about learning and adapting intentionally and deliberately, rather than as a by-product of the work we do. And in order to do CLA intentionally, we need concrete tools and approaches that are tailored to the local context.

It’s time to address the myth that CLA is expensive and only donor-driven

USAID’s STRIDE activity showed us that the private sector is interested and can invest in projects when CLA is used to increase trust. STRIDE began to connect universities and private industry, but the relationships were forced and untrusting. Through intentional learning and review of activity programming, STRIDE adapted and increased the number of times universities and industry met, instead of holding a few big events a year. This collaboration paid off, as the relationships grew stronger with increased contact. Eventually, the private industry took over the investments that USAID was making, and worked directly with universities. STRIDE used CLA processes (such as pause and reflect sessions) to increase trust and collaboration between the private sector and universities. While incorporating CLA into an existing or new program requires initial investments and funding, once the value of CLA is seen through shared results, it is easier for CLA investments to be leveraged from donors and the public and private sectors. We need to continue to gather evidence to show that CLA can be sustained beyond donor funding as it can lead to tangible benefits for stakeholders.

CLA is effective development

When CLA is carried out through a truly collaborative spirit with ownership by host country governments and local stakeholders, it is not just good and inclusive international development, it is also effective international development. As governments and local stakeholders become equal partners in international development efforts, the achievements of international development programs become more sustainable. As we model and teach CLA practices in our work, they can then be carried forward by local governments and stakeholders to achieve better development outcomes.

Through the discussions and Q&A many other points emerged that deserve further exploration, including how to quantify and show return on investment for CLA and the need to develop best practices for identifying and building CLA champions with programs and local governments. Stay tuned for more on this from the RTI MERLA Community of Practice (MERLA@rti.org), #RTILearns.


The Zine: How to Use Your Visual Brain to Improve Reporting & Intentional Learning

Aug 29, 2018 by Kat Haugh Comments (0)

Zine Visual

Kat Haugh is a Monitoring, Evaluation, Research, and Learning Specialist on the USAID LEARN contract.

We all have them: that 50-page report sitting on your desk that you’ve never read. And when you think about reading it, you cringe. You just can’t do it. And there’s a good reason for that, research and experience show that in order for information to be used for learning and adapting, the information itself needs to be easily accessible.

How do we present information in a way that capitalizes on opportunities for information to actually be digested and used (and avoid the dreaded 50-page report)?

One way the USAID LEARN contract makes data more accessible and actionable is through visual storytelling. We use metaphors, doodles, storylines, and designs to communicate about our work and better understand what our data is telling us about our progress and impact.

We’ve recently piloted a new visual storytelling technique called a zine. The term zine is short for magazine and is a self-published visual story with a combination of text and images. Zines are a visual reporting tool used to distill complex information (like information about financial investment or climate change) into short, easy-to-read,  creative stories. Everyone can be an author (and also an editor, designer, and publisher) of a zine, and that is part of what makes them so powerful.

We got inspired by zines and so we created one about our work on LEARN. The finished product looks like this:


If you can’t tell from the picture, the Zine is a small (8.5 x 11 inches) booklet that includes minimal text and lots of visuals. It’s written in story-form, with no jargon or flowery words. That’s because the focus is on communicating the information as succinctly and efficiently as possible and presenting it as a story. We do that because our brains not only make sense of visual information more quickly, but we are also far more likely to remember stories.

On our journey to creating a zine about our work, we learned a few key lessons:

  1. Need to know > nice to know. Given the limited space in the zine, we had to be really strict about what was absolutely necessary to communicate and what was not.
  2. Ideal visual to text ratio. To avoid overdoing it with the amount of visuals in the zine and overwhelming our audience, we followed guidance from data visualization experts like Stephanie Evergreen and others about the appropriate visual to text ratio.
  3. Co-creation of recommendations is helpful. In order to make the content of the zine as useful as possible, we worked within our team to co-create the recommendations about changes we’d make in our work in response to the data that was reported in the zine.
  4. Facilitation is needed for internalization. Just sharing the zine is not enough for the information to be adequately digested and used for decision-making. Facilitating the internalization of the information through an exercise (like a madlibs game) is critical for the information to be downloaded by your team.

Like all types of reporting, the zine comes with its own pros and cons. The pros are that this type of reporting focuses on what is most important, is told in story-form, and is highly visual and engaging. The cons are that the zine cannot always capture the details and the visuals can feel overwhelming to some.

There is a lot of opportunity in our field to improve the way we are communicating about our work. We’d love to hear how you are using your visual brain to do it! Please share your stories with us. And, click here to see one of our zines.

Tip: To learn more, there’s an entire wikipedia page devoted to zines and if you type “zine making” into Amazon, you’ll get 10 pages of results. There may also be a zine-making community near you.

Adaptive Archetypes—or, 50 Ways to CLA

Aug 26, 2018 by Dave Algoso Comments (0)

Dave Algoso is a social change consultant working with Mercy Corps on the CLAIM network.

When I’m doing CLA and you’re doing CLA, does that mean we’re doing the same things? Not necessarily!

That was one takeaway from the recently concluded CLA Initiative for Measurement (CLAIM) learning network. A few of our general lessons are discussed here, but one lesson warrants a deeper dive: the many ways to do CLA.

The CLAIM network consisted of five research partners taking different approaches to answering the same question: does an intentional, systematic and resourced approach to collaborating, learning and adapting contribute to development outcomes? If so: how, under what conditions, and how do we know?

As we compared findings, we found they reflected dramatically different CLA practices, even across this small set of projects. Thinking also about the rest of our experiences and other case studies, it became clear that—to channel musician Paul Simon—there are 50 ways to CLA.

Pictured: CLAIM network members in April 2017.

However, knowing you can do CLA many different ways is little help to program leaders. Does it mean anything goes? They can find some guidance in USAID’s CLA Framework and similar tools like Mercy Corps’ “AdaptScan” framework, but many of these can feel like a laundry list: the six CLA components have a total of 16 subcomponents and three key concepts under each of those; AdaptScan has 13 factors organized under five themes. Each piece is important, but how can you tell which are most important to you and your program?

During the learning network’s final workshop, we started to talk about the ways different aspects of CLA might be clustered—not conceptually, but practically. Which CLA approaches actually show up together in the real world? We noticed that some programs learn and adapt based on rapid quantitative data, requiring different capacities than those that work more slowly and collaboratively with multiple community partners. Manmeet Mehta of Global Knowledge Initiative put the name to this clustering: archetypes.

We left that meeting with the thought that defining coherent archetypes might help development leaders envision what type of adaptive approach they should take in light of their context and development challenges. If they recognized their team and their program in one of the archetypes, it could help them better operationalize the CLA sub-components.

So in the interest of furthering the conversation, here’s a rough draft on a few archetypes:

Fine Tuner: Test, measure, iterate.

The Fine Tuner has a model—likely for product or service delivery—that they’re developing, scaling, or already operating at scale. Their adaptive approach is oriented toward improving that model. And for that, they love data: ICT-enabled and as "real-time” as they can get it. The data allows them to test changes to the model, measure outcomes, and respond to problems.

  • Key capacities: M&E for learning, including data collection, management, and analysis; ICT4D; continuous learning and improvement; adaptive management.

Community Collaborator: Deliberate engagement and careful convening.

The Community Collaborator understands that change takes time. They build relationships with the key players, often in pursuit of systemic goals like peacebuilding or market development, and leverage their convening power to help others work together. Their data is more likely to be qualitative, providing insights into the interests and needs of their partners.

Key capacities: relationship building and networking; external collaboration; context sensing and analysis; scenario planning; application of theories of change.

Portfolio Investor: Hedge your bets.

The Portfolio Investor plays a resource allocation role, directing funding toward multiple partners tackling a problem. They acknowledge that the right approach isn’t clear, so they invest in several approaches, seeking to understand which are achieving outcomes and providing further resources accordingly.

Key capacities: discretionary funding; external collaboration; applying technical evidence; outcomes measurement and analysis.

Dynamic Responder: Sense, analyze, react.

The Dynamic Responder works in a volatile context, buffeted by shocks and stresses. Whether providing humanitarian relief or navigating political crises, they live on their toes, constantly ready to change directions or launch a new program as needs change. They use data to understand external changes as much as their own outputs.

  • Key capacities: context sensing and analysis; scenario planning; flexible funding; flexible relationships and networks; flexible operations.

Bootstrapping Hustler*: Bridge the needs and the funding. 

The Bootstrapping Hustler sees needs bigger than their funding streams, and they’ll bend over backwards to connect the two. They’re a small organization, maybe community-based or founder-led, with tight capacity and outsized goals. Their size and lack of institutional baggage make it easier to pivot, but they rarely have the bandwidth to pause and reflect.

  • Key capacities: leadership; contextual understanding; flexible operations; relationships and networks; culture; decision-making.

Do any of these sound like programs you know? What’s missing from this set? There are surely more archetypes out there. There could even be a data-driven way to identify them: given that the CLA case competition entries are coded by subcomponent, you could see which components tend to cluster together. (This report on the 2015 cases does a bit of this analysis.)

With a better set of archetypes, we might be able to help programs identify the unique capacities they need to work more adaptively. They could better learn alongside other programs taking similar approaches, and build the evidence base for the value of CLA. Demystifying these practices would make them more accessible and ultimately impactful. Instead of one way to CLA, we could all find the way that works for us.

* This archetype was suggested by Manmeet Mehta of Global Knowledge Initiative. Many thanks to her and Monalisa Salib of USAID’s LEARN support contract, which is managed by  Dexis Consulting Group, for helping develop the ideas for this post and for feedback on the first draft.

Three Ways Experts Measure Adaptive Management

Aug 21, 2018 by Meghan Jutras Comments (0)

At this year’s Moving the Needle event, a thought-provoking panel session on “Measuring the Hard to Measure” tackled a tough development question: how can we measure the contribution of collaborating, learning, and adapting (CLA) to better organizational and development outcomes? Panelists shared their diverse approaches for measuring the (nearly) unmeasurable to close evidence gaps.

Kicking off the discussion, Stacey Young (Senior Learning Advisor and CLA Team Lead, USAID Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning) provided some context: USAID is investing in building the evidence base for CLA because it believes that systematic, intentional and resourced CLA in its programs will yield increased organizational effectiveness and improved development results. However, the contribution that CLA makes at either level is not clear or easily measured, and testing this theory of change is particularly thorny. Measuring benefits that are indirect is difficult at best, all the more so when prevailing approaches favor quantified evidence, narrowly described and easily attributed. USAID’s effort to build the  Evidence Base for CLA (see here for a new dashboard on EB4CLA) involves collecting and synthesizing the existing evidence on if, how, and under what conditions CLA contributes to better outcomes, and also identifies effective approaches for measuring this contribution.  

Move beyond linear measurement. Kerry Bruce (Executive Vice President, Social Impact) discussed how Global Learning for Adaptive Management (GLAM), a jointly funded DFID and USAID activity, is working towards adaptive rigor in a complex world. Kerry posited that the development community faces many challenges that demand a new approach to traditional, linear measurement. The Ebola crisis is a defining example of the need for a dynamic, iterative approach that integrates research, measurement, and programmatic and policy actions. GLAM’s emerging principles of adaptive rigor are supported by documentation of best practices in monitoring, evaluation, and learning for adaptive management. These include: holding multidisciplinary, cross-stakeholder sessions for problem analysis and theory definition; triangulating multiple data sources and perspectives; conducting regular, strategic stress testing; and developing an organizational culture that encourages and rewards being open, inquisitive, and responsive.

Get stakeholder buy-in. Shannon Griswold (Senior Scaling Advisor, USAID Global Development Lab) and Rebecca Herrington (Developmental Evaluator, USAID Global Development Lab / Social Impact) shared how they have leveraged developmental evaluation (DE) at USAID’s Global Development Lab (“the Lab”). A DE commissioned by the Lab explores which programmatic approaches work effectively towards sustained uptake and which do not. Teams are able to learn from others and establish feedback loops for active adaptation. Employing process tracing, positive deviance, and outcome harvesting, the DE has been a learning- and action-oriented approach to understanding complexity. Rebecca explained that buy-in from stakeholders can make or break the evaluation, so documentation of pivots (along with the reasons behind them) and continuous attention to stakeholder engagement are crucial.

Identify adaptive factors. Alison Hemberger (Senior Advisor, Markets and Learning, Mercy Corps) spoke about Mercy Corps’ AdaptScan process to assess, learn from, and improve its adaptive practices. This approach identifies how factors that enable collaborating, learning, and adaptive approaches contribute to adaptive actions taken by program teams, and the resulting difference in development outcomes. Through this process, Mercy Corps identified 15 adaptive factors over five themes, ranging from strategy to processes to partnerships to learning. Key findings, such as the importance of moving beyond traditional partnerships and planning for adaptation in budgets and reporting, were incorporated into an adaptive management plan. Mercy Corps saw impact from these efforts in team behavior, as well as the focus, reach, and sustainability of its work.

Audience members contributed valuable reflections in discussing their key takeaways and asking questions about presenters’ approaches. The participants suggested that while everyone wants to see how adaptive management can fit in their work, it is much more difficult to operationalize. In the examples shared, participants saw a common theme of focusing on and documenting small, incremental changes to help ensure that data is used. They considered when relationships may be more important to target for change than processes. The group also noted how having champions who buy into non-traditional approaches to measurement and evaluation - particularly for things that are hard to measure - is essential.

Effective Leadership is about the Team and its Purpose, not the Leader

Aug 20, 2018 by Piers Bocock Comments (0)

Piers Bocock is Chief of Party of the USAID LEARN contract.

The purpose of this blog post is to confirm and share some exciting news about the USAID LEARN contract. On October 1, 2018, when the fifth and final year of the contract begins, I am stepping down from my role as Chief of Party. Sarah Schmidt will become our new Chief of Party and Monalisa Salib will step into Sarah’s previous position as Deputy Chief of Party.

Over the four years that I’ve had the privilege of leading the USAID LEARN team in our collaboration with USAID’s Collaborating, Learning and Adapting (CLA) Team, I’ve been transparent about my philosophy of leadership and what it takes to build effective teams. In line with that, here are the reasons for this transition, and why I believe the LEARN team is well positioned to continue to advance USAID’s efforts to become a more effective learning organization.

When I first sat down with Mihir Desai, CEO of Dexis Consulting Group to discuss the LEARN Chief of Party role, he noted that skimming through my CV and online profile, it’s easy to see a pattern: I serve 2-3 years and then move on - which is true. That day in July 2014, we agreed that by the summer of 2017 I’d likely find a different challenge to tackle. But, I have been having so much fun with the LEARN team and USAID’s CLA team that I stuck around a year longer than initially anticipated. (As with previous roles, I’m ready to move on to another exciting adventure that I’d be happy to share, but that’s not what this blog is about.) But knowing and recognizing this pattern, Sarah, Mihir and I have long since been preparing a succession plan.

In addition to being accountable for, and motivating a team to deliver on, priorities and deliverables and client satisfaction and the bottom line, good leadership requires longer-term scenario planning and succession planning. It also requires an intense, intentional focus on building the enabling conditions that create a sustainable, lasting culture that can stand changes in personnel and personalities without too much churn, angst, or disruption. This means establishing a values-based environment that puts the mission and the team above the personalities of their bosses.

Over the last year as we have been planning for the sustainability of CLA as an approach to doing development differently, we have also been investing in the sustainability of the LEARN team by developing the next generation of leaders in organizational learning and knowledge management by equipping them with both technical and soft skills.

LEARN team at Moving the Needle Conference

The USAID LEARN team at Moving the Needle, June 2018.

The LEARN team is committed to seeing USAID’s efforts to become a more effective learning organization continue beyond the life of this contract. Sarah Schmidt, Deputy Chief of Party for the past four years, is ideally placed to lead the team through the close-out of this contract and the start-up of the next, should we be fortunate enough to win it. She and I have been co-leading this great team since its inception, and she is more than ready to take on this new role. This is the next natural step for her in a career that has included effective and innovative approaches to organizational learning and knowledge management at DAI and Management Sciences for Health. She has the respect and loyalty of our team, and is a tireless champion for our USAID’s CLA Team and its missions around the world.

Monalisa Salib is one of the rock stars in our talented and accomplished band that is LEARN. She is our leading Organizational Development and Organizational Learning thinker who has helped shape some of our team’s most important contributions over the past four years, including USAID’s CLA Framework, the Self-Assessment and Action-Planning process, and our work on the Evidence Base for CLA. She is a strong manager and leader, and will provide excellent support to Sarah in mapping out a successful path forward for our team as well as USAID’s learning capacity.  

Building on their experience of working closely together for the past 4 years, Sarah and Monalisa have the respect and appreciation of our team and our clients, and will continue to deliver excellence.

Leading LEARN has been one of the proudest accomplishments of my career, and I can only expect continued success of such a talented and dedicated team.

Leadership Matters: Building the Conditions for Sustainable Organizational Learning and Impact

Aug 16, 2018 by Piers Bocock Comments (0)

This blog was cross-posted from Humentum.

Piers Bocock is Chief of Party of the USAID LEARN contract.

I’m not sure how it happened: perhaps it’s just a factor of time and persistence; or maybe it’s the hints of gray near my temples. But suddenly I find myself in a place where people think I have a degree of wisdom to share -- especially when I spend a lot of time talking about leadership. So let me start this piece by acknowledging that when I speak about leadership, I most often focus on those traits in others that I observe in conjunction with effective, happy, productive, creative and dynamic teams -- mainly because they are characteristics to which I aspire.

At the same time, there are those who are put into positions where they have leadership responsibility for teams, for organizations, for contracts, and for agencies as a function. In my experience, it is the combination of these two -- a formal leadership role paired with leadership characteristics -- where we tend to see game-changing results. And this is particularly true in the international aid and development sector.  This topic -- why and how leadership leads to better development results -- was the focus of the panel I participated on at Humentum’s first Annual Conference, July 26-28.  

The session was moderated by one of the development sector’s thought leaders on the connection between organizational learning and improved development results, Stacey Young, Senior Learning Advisor in the Office of Learning, Evaluation and Research (LER), in USAID’s Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning (PPL); and the Agency’s Collaborating, Learning and Adapting Team Lead. Joining me on the panel was three other thought-leaders who, like me, head up multi-year USAID efforts to improve development outcomes through more effective organizational learning and knowledge management:

  • Liz Lauck, Chief of Party, USAID Measuring Impact (MI) Contract (Environmental Incentives)
  • Peter Hobby, Chief of Party, USAID Knowledge-Driven Agricultural Development (KDAD) Contract (Insight Systems)
  • Tara Sullivan, Project Director, USAID Knowledge for Health Project (Johns Hopkins University Center for Communication Programs)

Our intention for this panel was to address the evidence for, challenges to, and recommendations for how to strengthen this connection between leadership that creates the right conditions for effective organizational learning and adaptive management, as well as the challenges inherent in these efforts. We wanted to engage the attendees in a real conversation about practical approaches to help continue to integrate leadership responsibility and leadership behaviors.

The main challenge we had was delivering a 1-hour session that could include a panel discussion as well as attendee participation and discussion.  The session facilitator, Stacey Young, is one of the few recognized thought-leaders in organizational learning and knowledge management in the development sector.  She masterfully managed the session, providing an overview of USAID’s approach to organizational learning and then asking strategic questions to the panelists that would help provide food for thought for the table-top discussions to come.  I found myself responding to her question about why we don’t see all organizations focusing on learning by talking about my experience building effective teams by demonstrating vulnerability, welcoming input and ideas from all levels, and being open to experimentation.

The panel discussion gave way to table-top discussions that brought together a full room into six dynamic conversations on what works, and what doesn’t in leadership for learning. What I walked away with was a strong sense that all organizations want to create the right conditions for effective learning for better results; the difference between those that succeed and those that don’t are the leaders who intentionally and systematically make space for that learning culture to emerge.

If you’d like to learn more about the contract that I lead and where and how we support the connections between leadership, learning cultures, and improved effectiveness internally and with partners, please visit USAID Learning Lab, to check out our blogs, podcasts and other resources related to -- and supporting -- effective leadership for learning and impact.

Addressing Complexity With Adaptive Management Approaches

Aug 14, 2018 by Piers Bocock Comments (0)

This blog was cross-posted from AgriLinks.

Piers Bocock is Chief of Party of the USAID LEARN contract.

One of the most refreshing changes that I’ve observed in the international development sector over the past 5-10 years is a growing recognition of the complexity of the situations in which we work. Those on the front lines are intimately aware of this of course, but in my experience, the realities of development implementation have too often clashed with institutions’ drive for for standard, replicable models and tools. The change I am seeing is less about giving up on those standard models and tools; rather it’s a shift toward flexible, adaptable and iterative frameworks and processes that start with understanding local voices, conditions and context.

At the May 2018 Market Systems Symposium in Cape Town, I facilitated sessions on adaptive management as part of an overall exposure to USAID’s Collaborating, Learning and Adapting (CLA) framework, approach and resources. At that excellent learning-focused event, I noted that the Food Security “sector” (I put that in quotes because Food Security and Resilience really cross all development sectors), and the work that we as development professionals do to support strengthened market systems, is about as complex as development gets. One approach to improving how we operate in this complexity and the enabling environments to which we must adapt is through adaptive management and CLA.

The good news is that adaptive management is now encouraged, even mandated, in Agency policy. As USAID Administrator Mark Green shared with participants at the June 2018 Moving the Needle Event, “As we embrace more-efficient ways to support developing countries on their journey to self-reliance, collaborating, learning and adapting will help ensure we are designing and implementing programs that respond to local priorities, generate local resources, and strengthen local actors. This, in turn, will make the results we and our partners achieve more durable and sustainable.”

So, what are USAID staff and partners doing to operate more effectively in these complex environments and create space for locally led approaches? Here are a few examples.

  • Global Communities provides a great example of how CLA laid the foundation for locally led approaches during the recent Ebola epidemic in Liberia. Using CLA resulted in local ownership of new health practices that not only helped contain the immediate spread of Ebola, but addressed some of the underlying vulnerabilities in community health behaviors and national health care systems.

  • When USAID/Senegal identified areas for improvement in their Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey results, they used them as a tool for reflection and change. After this intervention, the mission reported improvements in their organizational culture.

  • This CLA case study from Zimbabwe describes why, despite positive momentum, the Amalina Program chose to pause and take a calculated risk to improve breastfeeding behavior in western Zimbabwe. In addition to observing an increase in the desired behaviors, the team reported that their culture has shifted to become more open to identifying, testing and scaling up new ideas.

In each of these examples, development practitioners saw a challenge and addressed that complexity with CLA practices. If you’re looking for ideas of how to integrate CLA into your own work, check out these two new podcast series from USAID Learning Lab.

  • From the Inside Out was designed to empower USAID staff and partners with evidence, tips and tools to collaborate, learn and adapt in their day-to-day work. Episodes cover topics such as how to build and adaptive team, create a learning culture and collaborate strategically.

  • Leaders in Learning, which I host with Stacey Young, Senior Learning Advisor and CLA Team Lead in USAID’s Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning, draws on interviews with thought leaders in organizational learning and knowledge management in the international development sector. Themes include: the role of evidence and data in organizational learning; the relationship between organizational culture and learning; how organizations integrate learning into their daily work; and more.

Do you have examples you’d like us to share on USAID Learning Lab? Contact info@usaidlearninglab.org or message us at @usaidlearning on Twitter.

Procuring and Managing Adaptively: 5 Case Studies of Adaptive Mechanisms

Aug 13, 2018 by Tony Pryor Comments (0)

Flexibility in program management is essential in all of the countries where USAID works. This is especially true in non-permissive environments (NPEs), where the ability to learn and adapt quickly to changing circumstances can help USAID staff members achieve their desired outcomes.

Below are five case studies of adaptive mechanisms. In some cases, language that helps CORs and IPs manage the contract adaptively is written right into the contract itself. In other instances, the mechanisms are relatively common in the USAID context, but the CORs and IPs have come up with innovative ways to manage them adaptively.

These examples are just that—examples. We encourage you to add your own examples here or contribute suggestions in the comments section below for other approaches to making procurement and activity management more adaptive.

Adaptive Mechanism Case Studies

  • USAID/Indonesia's Urban Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (IUWASH) program was designed to support the Government of Indonesia (GOI) in making significant progress toward achieving its safe water and sanitation Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets. The program featured frequent and effective use of a variety of data to manage adaptively. The contract was a cost plus fixed fee contract awarded after full and open competition, and it incorporated a Grants Under Contract (GUC) component.
  • Both in the design of the mechanism and in the ways it was implemented, Zimbabwe's Civil Society Strengthening Program (CSSP) benefited from systematic and intentional incorporation of features that facilitated adaptive management. Working with an objectives-based, cost plus fixed fee (CPFF) contract, the Mission awarded Pact $26.8 million in June 2012 for a five-year program (2012-2017) that incorporated a Grants Under Contract (GUC) component, a joint Mission-IP management team, and periodic re-examination of program objectives and priorities through strategy review sessions, weekly political economy analyses (PEAs), and regular meetings with an external reference group.
  • USAID/Central Asia's Power the Future activity is a four-year (2017-2021), $24 million single-award indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract designed to facilitate adaptive management through task orders driven by context and opportunity.
  • Spanning five and a half years (2012-2017), USAID/Kenya's Feed the Future Innovation Engine (KIE) sought to identify, foster and bring to scale innovative private sector solutions to persistent poverty and food insecurity. KIE was a hybrid contract, combining firm fixed price (FFP), fixed-price incentive fee (FPIF) and firm-fixed price level of effort (FFP-LOE). It also incorporated a Grants Under Contract (GUC) component. Structured much like a venture capital fund, KIE identified, fostered and brought to scale innovations in the food security sector.
  • USAID/Kosovo's Transparent, Effective and Accountable Municipalities (TEAM) program is a five-year (2017-2022) Cost Plus Award Fee (CPAF) contract designed to facilitate adaptive management and local ownership of the activity. Language in the solicitation explicitly encouraged adaptive management, and offerors were required to submit an Adaptive Management Plan. In addition, adaptation is one of the evaluation criteria for the award fee periods.

Going Local: Challenges and Opportunities

Aug 8, 2018 by USAID LEARN Comments (0)

This blog synthesizes key discussion points from the Moving the Needle 2018 morning breakout session on local ownership.

Similar to how the Agency is thinking about self-reliance, local ownership is defined by USAID as “the commitment and ability of local actors―including the governments, civil society, the private sector, universities, individual citizens, and others―to prioritize, resource, and implement development, so that development outcomes have a greater potential to be sustained and generate lasting change without USAID assistance.”

Recent changes at USAID have made local ownership an even greater priority for the Agency. Back in 2016, USAID introduced local ownership as one of its four guiding principles in the updated operational policy (ADS 201). Since then, the Office of Local Sustainability has invested in testing approaches for greater local ownership, and more resources on local ownership have become available on ProgramNet (USAID access only). In addition, based on the definition above, the Agency’s strategic focus on self-reliance is linked to local ownership.

Though there is clear consensus and supportive rhetoric on the importance of local ownership, getting there often remains elusive. Why is that? And what needs to change to align our rhetoric with our reality? During a breakout session of Moving the Needle 2018, participants dove into these questions in small groups facilitated by Danielle Pearl and Shohreh Kermani-Peterson of USAID’s Office of Local Sustainability, Mackson Maphosa and Rebecca Oser from The Manoff Group (a 2017 Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting (CLA) Case Competition Winner), and Dan Honig from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Across conversations, two systemic issues arose―time and resources, and control―that would potentially require us to design and implement programming in a fundamentally different way to achieve greater local ownership.

Time & Resources: A focus on local ownership requires us to invest our time and resources differently. It requires USAID and implementing partners to spend more time listening to and collaborating with local actors to build trusting relationships, agree on shared goals, share information, identify respective roles, and achieve results. It also requires more time for learning about and with local communities and systems to ensure interventions are context-driven and sustainable.

In addition, local actors are in no way homogenous. We have to take time to move beyond the “usual suspects” and reach out to those who may have divergent views. We also need time to understand actors’ interests and influence, devising strategies that are responsive to the political context in which we work.

One successful example of this clear investment in achieving greater local ownership came from The Manoff Group’s 2017 winning case competition entry from western Zimbabwe. The purpose of the activity was to improve nutrition practices, including optimal breastfeeding for mothers and babies. A midpoint survey indicated that some behaviors were improving while others were not, in part because their improvement required endorsement and support from male partners.

The Manoff Group realized they needed to change tactics and engage men more intentionally as allies. They began by facilitating conversations with both women and men. First, they asked women what support they need from men to optimize breastfeeding and provide better nutrition to their infants. They then took those suggestions to the men, asking: which of these behaviors are you already doing and which are you willing to try? This eventually resulted in a list of new behaviors men felt they could commit to. The Manoff Group also ensured discussions with men involved local leaders who were most respected under the assumption that if they began modeling new behaviors, other men were more likely to follow suit. Moreover, they identified culturally appropriate messaging that simultaneously built on men’s existing values and encouraged new behaviors. Their impact evaluation data demonstrated a significant improvement in key behaviors in targeted communities vs. control communities. A supportive prime (CNFA) and donor (USAID/Zimbabwe) made the investment of time and resources in this approach possible; those involved realized behavior change can never be imposed upon but rather must be negotiated with and owned by community members. This case demonstrates that giving participants a voice in shaping and selecting interventions sets the stage for local ownership and ultimately increases the likelihood of sustainable impact.

Control: Local ownership, by its very name, has implications for who is in control. If the goal is to get to a point where local actors prioritize, implement, and finance their own development, then control needs to at the very least be shared between USAID and local counterparts. In the above example, The Manoff Group played a facilitative role, acting as an intermediary between men and women in the community. Ultimate decision-making control rested with the community members to decide which behaviors they were willing to adjust.

USAID’s Office of Local Sustainability is also grappling with the issue of control but from a different angle: who controls the flow of information, and how does this affect accountability? With USAID/Morocco and other missions, they are thinking about how USAID can manage feedback loops in ways that support greater local ownership (see IRC’s resource on the same topic here). Typically feedback loops flow back up to USAID as the donor because the flow of information is embedded in and shaped by power relationships: who has the money, who has to meet requirements, and who is reporting to whom. Because USAID most often sets the agenda, brings in the resources, and sets out reporting requirements that shape management decisions, there is a tendency toward extractive relationships that support an upward flow of information and accountability to the donor rather than to local actors. It can be rare for information about program efficiency and effectiveness provided to USAID to flow back “down” to local partners, the communities those partners serve, and other local stakeholders. Nonetheless, we recognize that for development outcomes to be sustained beyond the end of our assistance, there has to be accountability to local constituents of development, not just to donors.

Through Local Works and the Cooperative Development Program, USAID is exploring and learning about how to rebalance these information flows in ways that shift ownership of information and decision-making toward local actors and the communities they serve, while remaining accountable to US taxpayers for achieving sustainable outcomes.

Participants also discussed a recent study by Dan Honig that analyzed about 10,000 development projects. He found that aid agencies achieve better results when using bottom-up approaches that empower frontline workers and organizations to make decisions using their local knowledge and relationships. The study finds that we are more likely to miss the mark on our development goals when we lead with a headquarters-driven, top-down management approach. While some may perceive that bottom-up approaches incur more risk due to a loss of centralized control, the study demonstrates the opposite: in most scenarios, top-down fails more often. Why? Because overly prescriptive rules and controls meant to curtail bad behavior can also curtail good behavior, making it difficult for staff to apply locally relevant knowledge and adapt programs (i.e., “navigate by judgment”).

These high-level considerations―both how we spend our time and who controls the agenda―will continue to impact how successful we are in achieving local ownership and supporting countries on their journey to self-reliance. An afternoon session at Moving the Needle 2018 identified specific behaviors and approaches USAID and implementing partners can adopt to get closer to this ideal (read more about those ideas here).

Getting to Locally Led Development: What We Can Do to Move the Needle

Aug 6, 2018 by USAID LEARN Comments (0)

This blog synthesizes key discussion points from a Moving the Needle 2018 afternoon breakout session on local ownership.

Time to Listen summarizes and analyzes the experiences of nearly 6,000 people in 20 aid-receiving countries, and the reflections of aid workers themselves, on the effectiveness of international assistance efforts. While they do appreciate international assistance, cynicism among people in aid recipient communities is high and they are eager to see real efforts to make international aid become more effective and achieve more sustained results. Authors conclude that, “People do not want to need assistance! They do not want to depend on outsiders for help” (pg. 21). They want to be more engaged and to have more voice and decision-making power in how aid efforts are conceived, funded, carried out and evaluated. They are calling for a shift from an externally driven aid delivery system to a more collaborative aid system (see table below).


Externally Driven Aid Delivery System

Collaborative Aid System

Local people seen as beneficiaries and aid recipients

Local people seen as colleagues and drivers of their own development

Focus on identifying needs

Focus on supporting/reinforcing capacities and identifying local priorities

Pre-planned/pre-determined programs

Context-relevant programs developed jointly by recipient communities and aid providers

Provider-driven decision-making

Collaborative decision-making

Focus on spending on a predetermined schedule

Fit money and timing to strategy and realities on the ground

Staff evaluated and rewarded for managing projects on time and on budget

Staff evaluated and rewarded for quality of relationships and results that recipients say make lasting positive changes in their lives

Monitoring and evaluation by providers on project spending and delivery of planned assistance

Monitoring, evaluation, and follow-up by providers and recipients on the results and long-term effects of assistance

Focus on growth

Planned draw down and mutually agreed exit/end of assistance strategy

From Time to Listen: Hearing People on the Receiving End of International Aid (pg.138), available for purchase on Amazon and downloadable for free here.

Time to Listen concludes by asking: “Can a field of change agents change itself?” (pg. 146). The focus of an afternoon session during Moving the Needle 2018 was to begin to answer this question by identifying specific recommendations for USAID and implementing partners to take forward to make locally led development and the approaches identified in the collaborative aid system column above standard practice, rather than an exception.

Participants generated the following recommendations broken out by USAID vs. implementing partners (in some cases ideas are relevant to both) and whether the idea is “low-hanging” (meaning more easily achievable) vs. systemic. This list is not exhaustive of the ideas generated in the session.


Implementing Partners

“Low-hanging fruit” / more easily implemented options

  • Do more field-based portfolio reviews so mission staff listen to and interact more with stakeholders directly impacted by programming
  • Use co-creation design approaches (such as Broad Agency Announcements) to integrate local voices more into activity design
  • Collaborate on strategy, project and activity design with host government counterparts
  • Integrate listening, relationship-building, and engagement periods into activity start-up and work plans to avoid rushing to implementation without appropriate consultation with and buy-in of local actors (see this resource for some approaches).
  • Incorporate questions about locally led development in interviews to make sure staff hired believe in the importance of local ownership
  • Use more participatory approaches to M&E like Most Significant Change
  • Create and facilitate local advisory committees or boards that leadership engage for input and advice
  • Be as intentional about managing relationships as we are about managing agreements
  • Establish and implement Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting (CLA) plans to identify critical local stakeholders and how collaboration will be carried out
  • Consider indicators that are more process oriented (not just outcome oriented). For example, how satisfied were participants with the activity? Did they feel heard, engaged in decision-making, etc.?

Recommendations that require systemic change

  • Overhaul of the activity design and solicitation process so that it is locally driven (see this resource for some ideas)
  • Change in funding processes so that local needs and priorities can dictate funding streams
  • Integrate a phase in all activities where the activity is essentially redesigned with significant local input and ownership (see this resource for some approaches)
  • Consider novel organizational management and ownership structures that make use of feedback loops to be accountable to local constituents (see IRC’s client-responsive framework here)
  • Redesign organizational incentive structures to incentivize staff to focus on sustainable, locally led development vs. solely the achievement of immediate results
  • More local context and language training for foreign staff
  • Empower local staff to take a stronger role in collaborating with local stakeholders and train foreign staff how to listen and engage in culturally appropriate ways
  • Longer agreement timeframes to enable more time for local engagement, capacity building, and handover

We hope that you consider trying one of the ideas above, or use them as inspiration for identifying other ways to support greater locally led development. What have you tried? What’s worked? What hasn’t?


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