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Understanding CLA

What is it?

Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting (CLA) is a set of practices that help us improve our development effectiveness. Learning has always been part of USAID’s work, and most USAID missions and implementing partners are already practicing CLA in some way. Our aim now is to make CLA more systematic and intentional throughout the Program Cycle, and to dedicate the resources necessary to make it happen.

According to USAID’s Program Cycle guidance (ADS 201.3.7), “Strategic collaboration, continuous learning, and adaptive management link together all components of the Program Cycle.” Integrating CLA into our work helps to ensure that our programs are coordinated with others, grounded in a strong evidence base, and iteratively adapted to remain relevant throughout implementation. The systematic application of CLA approaches, led by people who have the knowledge and resources to carry them out, enables USAID to be an effective learning organization and thereby a more effective development organization.

In the simplest terms, integrating collaborating, learning, and adapting throughout the Program Cycle can help development practitioners address the above challenges by thinking through:

  • Collaborating: Are we collaborating with the right partners at the right time to promote synergy over stove-piping?
  • Learning: Are we asking the most important questions and finding answers that are relevant to decision making?
  • Adapting: Are we using the information that we gather through collaboration and learning activities to make better decisions and make adjustments as necessary?
  • Enabling Conditions: Are we working in an organizational environment that supports our collaborating, learning, and adapting efforts?

For an overview of CLA, take the online, self-paced Introduction to CLA in the Program Cycle course.

Guidance and Tools

Need help getting started?

Consider using the CLA Maturity Tool to explore how your team already uses CLA and where you could improve. This toolkit also contains resources to help you plan for CLA.


CLA Framework
CLA Framework


Important Tips

  • One size does not fit all. One of the most important points about CLA is that it looks different in every mission or bureau—and that’s as it should be. CLA isn’t about following a template but about really thinking about what works for your situation and context. The solutions are as diverse as the needs—let’s embrace that.  

  • Get people involved strategically. To be successful, Missions should encourage strong participation of technical and supporting offices. In many cases, CLA efforts may be housed in and managed by the program office, but technical teams have strong roles to play in identifying and implementing the CLA approach. Implementing partners, government counterparts and other stakeholders should be strongly encouraged to participate.

  • Share the results. If you hear about CLA efforts that others in your team or Mission are working on, help to tell the story. ProgramNet’s CLA Community of Practice for USAID staff, blog posts, and the annual CLA Case Competition are all great ways to share. Additionally, help others across the Mission recognize the CLA potential in the work that they are already doing. Sharing the learning will enable the Mission to identify ways to adapt its programming to be more effective, replicate or scale-up promising practices, and avoid repeating unsuccessful approaches. Everyone at the Mission has a role to play in making our programs more effective, so share information broadly.


Making the Case

A growing body of evidence indicates that collaborating, learning, and adapting contribute to improved organizational and development outcomes:

See our comprehensive literature review and CLA case competition analysis for more information.