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CLA in Activity Design and Implementation

What is it?

Coordinated programming is grounded in evidence and, when adjusted as necessary,  enhances the development results of an activity throughout implementation. By integrating collaborating, learning and adapting (CLA) throughout the activity design and procurement process, you help to ensure that implementing partners (IPs) have the capacity and the flexibility to reap the full benefits of these approaches. Working in close cooperation to set expectations and identify critical resources (time, funding and skill sets) at the outset, USAID and IPs can set an activity up for success in achieving its objectives.

How to incorporate CLA in Activity Design:

  1. How-To Note: Developing a Project Logic Model (and its Associated Theory of Change)
  2. Incorporating CLA in Solicitations
  3. Incorporating CLA in the Procurement Process
  4. Shock Responsive Programming and Adaptive Mechanisms

As USAID staff manage activities, we have a chance to model these practices and to encourage and incentivize them in implementing partners (IPs). By laying the foundation for an open, trusting, and learning-oriented relationship with IPs, and facilitating collaboration, learning, and adapting throughout the life of the activity, we can all help to ensure the best possible development outcome.

How to incorporate CLA in Activity Implementation:

  1. Incorporating CLA in Activity Management
  2. Discussion Note: Adaptive Management
  3. How-To Note: Planning and Conducting Site Visits

Also consider reviewing the tools and resources for Planning for CLA and Enhancing Organizational Culture for CLA

Guidance and Tools

Need help getting started?

Consider using the CLA Maturity Tool to explore how your team incorporates CLA in implementing mechanisms.

Important Tips

  • Build on CLA approaches already emphasized at the strategy and project levels. The degree to which you incorporate CLA into an activity design depends upon the particular priorities, capacities, resources and needs within the Mission, the nature of the country program, and the operational environment. Most often, these are captured in a Mission’s Country Development Cooperation Strategy (CDCS) and Performance Management Plan (PMP), including the CLA Plan. During project design, the Mission identifies:

    • the nature and degree of uncertainty related to potential shifts in the context;

    • a clear purpose, theory of change, and the degree of certainty surrounding that theory of change;
    • contributing analyses and the evidence base supporting particular design elements;
    • key monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) approaches that contribute to project success; and the source and nature of stakeholder engagement. These are critical factors to consider, as they will inform both the type and the depth of adaptive approaches that may best suit a particular activity.
  • Tailor the type and intensity of CLA approaches to fit the activity and its objectives. Building in adaptive management through CLA practices, skills, and processes can support enhanced development results, recognizing that the type of CLA practices and the degree of intensity may vary from activity to activity. For example, activities operating in contexts with higher complexity might need more frequent context monitoring, and more flexibility for course corrections.  Activities that fully embrace a locally-led development approach would require more intense investment in community or other stakeholder engagement strategies.

  • Use M&E to learn, as well as to meet reporting requirements. In both project and activity design, the MEL section should be written with an integrated focus on learning, such that the MEL system captures and reports on how the activity is progressing, and feeds that into an adaptive management approach. The MEL section can also draw from evidence outside the typical M&E realm, and incorporate elements of stakeholder engagement and organizational development, for example.

  • CLA practices support local actors and foster locally led development for increased self-reliance. USAID’s focus on organizational learning and adaptive management improves our ability to coordinate our efforts in service of local development partners. CLA is especially useful for designing and implementing activities that catalyze and facilitate  local ownership and sustainability.


Making the Case

A 2016 ODI report underscores the importance of learning and adapting in development programming, including the need to incorporate them into the design and management of interventions. Moreover, facilitating this approach among implementing partners can produce a virtuous ripple effect. A recent analysis of CLA Case Competition Entries found that when implementing partners experience the benefits of CLA approaches, they often expand their own CLA practices and/or import them to activities in other countries, thus amplifying the power of CLA to improve development outcomes.