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Community Contribution

Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting (CLA) in Crisis Response and Recovery

Aug 05, 2019
Lauren Leigh Hinthorne, Angelina McIntire, Megan Smith

Resilience, as defined by USAID, is “the ability of people, households, communities, countries and systems to mitigate, adapt to, and recover from shocks and stresses in a manner that reduces chronic vulnerability and facilitates inclusive growth.” By definition then, programming for resilience relies on successfully managing and facilitating change and so CLA approaches become necessary. At Moving the Needle 2019, participants had the opportunity to put CLA in crisis response and recovery into context through case studies and innovative frameworks. From Burma to Ethiopia, CLA is used to better equip local communities in responding to shocks and stresses while supporting countries’ development along the Journey to Self-Reliance.

Jessica Davey from the USAID Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) and Stephan Grey of Adapt Peacebuilding shared a case study that illustrated how a systems-based approach to integrating CLA practices and principles facilitated work by local communities to drive sustainable peacebuilding and development in the highly volatile and conflict-affected context of northern Burma. The second case study, presented by Sonia Moldovan and Diana Picon from Mercy Corps along with Jessica Anderson of the USAID Center for Resilience, focused on how the PRIME (Pastoralist Areas Resilience Improvement through Market Expansion) program used CLA to enhance resilience to climate change and related shocks and stresses across three pastoralist regions of Ethiopia.

The session left us with four key takeaways:

  1. Often, the best answers are the most obvious and come from people with a profound understanding of the context.

    Adapt Peacebuilding’s technical evidence base built on a compilation of hundreds of life stories from community members and action research groups. With mechanisms for adaptive management in place, they could accommodate ongoing programmatic changes to fully capitalize on invaluable local perspectives and insights.

  2. Development problems don’t fit neatly into boxes, but approaches such as Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation are helpful for asking questions, generating conversation, and analyzing complex issues.

    Both sessions provided clear evidence of the complexity of development problems and the systems they reside in. Salimah Samji, MTN’s keynote speaker from Harvard’s Center for International Development, introduced one tool from her team’s development approach called Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA). “Crawling the design space,” the fourth step of the toolkit, gave a two-dimensional chart to understand where a solution falls in the design space. Participants explored the Burma case study through this chart, concluding that good solutions to development problems were inevitably hybrid, and merited robust conversation and analysis from multiple perspectives.

  3. Discomfort might arise when using a new tool for understanding development problems. Instead of challenging it immediately, try first.

    The PDIA chart prompted this reflection from participants, who suggested development problems can’t be boiled down into simple categories or boxes. However, and as the session proved, the usefulness of any tool is not the tool in and of itself, but rather the conversation and questioning that arise from engaging with the process. One participant challenged the room to see the experience through the next time they try a new tool at any stage in development work. Only once the task is complete can the tool’s utility and effectiveness be accurately assessed.

  4. Keeping context in mind, the most sustainable results occur when local stakeholders are included in every step of the way.

    All presenters highlighted this key point across their presentations and case studies, including Mercy Corps with its PRIME program. The Mercy Corps representatives discussed how crisis modifiers (funding mechanisms designed to support a swift response to crises by USAID implementing partners) provided an opportunity for PRIME staff to rapidly collect information from stakeholders on the ground to make data-driven decisions. The localized data were critical to making decisions on whether to intervene and how to intervene, and included the donor in these decisions to ensure swift action in protecting development gains and resilience capacities of households in implementation areas of Ethiopia.

For additional case studies from USAID and its development partners using CLA approaches in crisis response and recovery to achieve better development outcomes, please browse our collection of cases from the CLA Case Competition. For more tools or resources on applying CLA across development programming, please explore our CLA toolkit.