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Collective Action in USAID Programming

What is Collective Action?

Collective Action is a form of strategic collaboration that takes an intentional and agreed-upon process that engages interested parties to take joint actions in support of shared objectives or a shared issue. Collective Action can tackle complex development problems through an organized approach to find and implement different and sustainable solutions. The Collective Action approach identifies and actively involves relevant stakeholders to address the development challenges and opportunities of interest. Engaging stakeholders consists of a coordinated, deliberate effort and involves aligning and integrating the actions of the coalition.

Why Resource Collective Action? 

Due to increasing complexity and uncertainty where USAID works, development challenges typically exceed the mandates of any individual organization or institution involved, and multiple efforts by different stakeholders have limited impact and can often make the complex problem worse. 

Therefore, designing and facilitating diverse stakeholder collaboration on development efforts including with host country governments, civil society, the private sector, and other stakeholder groups has become an essential way USAID programs assistance. In recent years, USAID and its implementing partners have increasingly been incorporating innovative collaborative approaches that bring diverse actors together to achieve mutual objectives. 

Collective Action is one example of a collaborative approach that directly and practically enhances locally-led approaches and represents an evolution of programming models that put local actors in the driver’s seat. Furthermore, the programming approach aligns with the Administrator’s vision to shift the balance of power and change the mindsets of our staff so that development is more locally led. The Collective Action programming guidance recognizes development agencies like USAID do not direct or drive change – our role is to catalyze local change processes.

What Makes Collective Action Different From Other Forms of Collaboration? 

Collective Action refers to a specific type of collaborative approach that aligns and integrates the work and objectives of stakeholder participants. Through our research, we recognize two distinctions between effective Collective Action and other forms of collaboration. First, Collective Action requires an intentional alignment of shared purpose and shared problem analysis among the member organizations. Second, members have influence over one another’s actions and hold each other accountable. These effectiveness conditions are met through through a: 

  • Relatively high degree of structures and processes. While Collective Action is a more structured and intentional form of collaboration, it can use a variety of organizing and communication structures and co-creation methodologies depending on the context and needs around the issue and convened stakeholders.
  • Moderate to high levels of engagement between members and consistent participation among members, who preferably include the diverse mix of stakeholders connected by a problem or challenge. 

Collective Action is time intensive and not appropriate for all contexts. See Modules 2 & 4 in the Practical Guide for USAID Missions for more information. 

What Resources for Collective Action Exist at USAID?

  • The Practical Guide for USAID Missions aims to help USAID Mission teams determine if Collective Action is appropriate for their context, share critical considerations in the design process, and provide tips to intentionally build sustainability into Collective Action throughout implementation if desired.
  • The Practical Guide for Facilitators aims to help organizers and facilitators of Collective Action, such as local and international implementing partners, to better plan for, support, and lead Collective Action in programming.
  • The Case Studies of Collective Action in USAID Programming provide key examples of effective Collective Action that USAID has funded in contexts all over the world. These case studies examine the background, technical approach, effectiveness factors, and challenges of the Collective Action experience.

How Were These Resources Created? 

Recognizing a gap in available guidance specific for USAID, the Innovative Design (iDesign) team in USAID’s Policy, Planning and Learning Bureau, Office of Strategic and Program Planning (PPL/SPP) commissioned research on Collective Action in USAID programs.  

The research began with two overarching questions: 

  • What are the features and characteristics of USAID-supported, field-focused collaboration? 
  • What factors contributed to the success of collaborative approaches, where “success” is considered progress not being achieved without multi-stakeholder collaboration? 

With these questions, the research team conducted an extensive literature review and held several key informant interviews to establish a theoretical basis and identify potential cases to examine. With an identified set of 15 projects and activities funded by USAID in multiple regions and technical areas, the team then conducted in two cohorts of case study research, the first to establish a theory of change for Collective Action and the second to test that theory. 

After the Research Team completed the data collection, they engaged end-users and interested experts across USAID to conduct thorough sense-making, a validation method that generates feedback to convert findings into usable resources. iDesign and the Research Team engaged participants from multiple communities of practice, Missions, regional and technical bureaus, and local organizations in workshops and focus group discussions during these sense-making discussions. 

Once sense-making was complete, the Research Team and iDesign consulted Mission teams and local implementing partner organizations to better understand the best form for tools and job aids and determine which operational tools would be most useful and effective. The team developed the Practical Guides for Collective Action in USAID Programming in response to this feedback