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Designing a Collective Action Approach: Make Critical Scoping Decisions

Oct 31, 2022
Jacqueline Greene

Program Design for USAID design teams is a creative and exciting venture, but it can be daunting. Even if you determine that the Collective Action approach can best address your development problem, how do you start? Module 4: Designing Effective Collective Action of the Practical Guide for USAID Missions tackles this dilemma with practical, clear steps to guide you in making some critical scoping decisions.  

A good place for program designers to start is to “bound” the problem, or in other words, clarify the focus and scope of the program. The Guide for Missions offers helpful questions related to four high-level elements that will help place some initial parameters around the development problem and plan for effective Collective Action:  

  • What is the ENTRY POINT?  - The first step in planning your Collective Action approach is determining the most appropriate entry point for USAID. Are you thinking of a broad scope that would cut across multiple activities at the level of a Project? Or will it be the focus of an individual award? Or perhaps one intervention among many in an Activity? If you can’t answer this right away, don’t worry, you can circle back to this question later. 
  • What is the GEOGRAPHIC SCOPE?  - Second, consider the possible geographic scope of the problem or challenge. Are you looking at a Collective Action effort at the local, regional, or national level? Selecting the level of focus will help determine the following two elements: which stakeholders will be targeted, and what timeline is required. 
  • Who are the RANGE OF ACTORS TO ENGAGE?  - Ultimately, Collective Action is about helping stakeholders to align themselves on a shared issue toward a greater good. To determine which actors to engage and how to get them on board, consider which actors are part of the local system that is the focus of the program, and how you will ensure that the coalition encourages equity, inclusion, diversity, and accessibility. To help with this question, the Guide provides links to practical tools such as systems mapping, social network analysis, and political economy analysis. 
  • What is the ideal TIME PERIOD FOR COLLABORATION? - A final and critical decision in the initial scoping stage is the timeline. I wonder how often we critically consider this in our program designs. We seem to default to the “standard” timeframe of USAID awards - as if everything is resolved in three to five years. Nevertheless, the nature of the challenge, the stage of the collective network (incipient or advanced), and the resources available to support the coalition will inform the timeframe to achieve results. If the coalition is just forming, it will take longer to see the results of a Collective Action initiative - probably beyond five years.  

These parameter-setting questions are a great way to start any program design process. You may not know the answers right away, and the design will evolve as you go, but clearly “bounding” the local system affecting your problem will drive the nature of the Collective Action effort needed.

One final thought. Considering that Collective Action requires local actors to engage in joint actions in support of shared objectives, local priorities should drive the design. This means that USAID should avoid prescribing the design. You don’t have to predict or imagine what local actors will want, what they will agree to, or how they will organize themselves, but you do need to co-create with them to bring those perspectives to the program design. Engaging local actors in the design is an opportunity to model inclusion by intentionally engaging marginalized actors and shifting decision-making to the people who will both affect and be affected by the Collective Action. Be sure to check out the Locally Led Development Spectrum, a tool introduced in Module 1, which illustrates how you can move your Collective Action program from USAID-led to locally led, from design through implementation.

To learn more, view the Collective Action video or visit the Collective Action resources on USAID Learning Lab. Please send your thoughts and feedback [email protected] with "Collective Action Feedback" in the subject line. We would love to hear from you.

About the authors
Jacqueline Greene

Jacqueline Greene is a Sr. Program Design Specialist in the DDI Local Faith And Transformative Partnerships Hub (LFT), supporting the Local Works program.