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Community Contribution

Eight Years Later: How our community continues to be inspired by the CLA Maturity Tool

Mar 11, 2024
Lauren Hinthorne

About eight years ago, we introduced the CLA Framework and Maturity Tool on Learning Lab. About four years ago, we shared some observations about how the development community has been inspired by -- and innovated on -- concepts and approaches from the Collaborating, Learning & Adapting (CLA) Maturity Tool. Since its publication in 2015, the CLA Maturity Tool has been used by teams from across USAID and the wider development community to have open and honest conversations about their CLA practice. The tool also supports targeted action planning to improve that practice in service of greater organizational effectiveness and better development outcomes. For those who aren’t familiar with the tool, this 3-minute video offers a quick overview. 

We continue to be amazed by the thoughtful and creative ways in which people have made the tool their own or adjusted it to meet a specific need. And it is equally rewarding to see how the CLA Framework and Maturity Tool continue to resonate after so many years. A lot has changed in our world and in our work since 2015, but the importance of prioritizing our organizational effectiveness remains undiminished. So without further ado, here are a few of new innovations that we are aware of  -- and, let us know if we’re missing some!

Virtual CLA maturity tool (developed by us with community input, 2021)

The need for and interest in CLA didn’t diminish during the global pandemic, even though our ability to engage with a physical version of the tool did. Like in so many other aspects of our lives, we realized the need to pivot from the physical CLA maturity tool to an approach that we could use in a remote-work context. CLA champions across USAID experimented with using the CLA maturity tool virtually, and it works! The cards translate easily into a slide format. When all participants are in the deck, they can read through the content of the cards, and move dots or markers to ‘vote’ on the maturity stage similar to how they would if gathered around a table. Similar to other convenings, using the maturity tool in a virtual setting requires some different approaches than you would use in person. That said, many of the principles for using the tool still apply, including the importance of having an experienced facilitator and understanding that the conversation  is more important than reaching consensus on any element of the self-assessment. 

IP version (created by Social Impact, 2022)

In 2022, Social Impact created the CLA Maturity Tool for implementing partners (IPs) to provide a version of the tool that speaks more directly to the experience of international and local organizations. The IP version aligns closely with the original, preserving the look and feel of the tool as well as much of the content. In addition to removing all USAID-specific references, it incorporates the most current thinking on CLA and what it takes to effectively integrate CLA into your work. Notable updates include:

  • Latest guidance on quality theories of change from the USAID Learns Theory of Change Workbook
  • Consideration of the local context, including and also broader than the original focus on scenario planning only
  • Delineation of explicit and tacit knowledge capture and the importance of onboarding
  • Rethinking of resources need for CLA, focusing especially on people, time and budget for CLA activities, resource flexibility, and MEL & KM systems

KRT Maturity Matrix (developed by the ALE team, 2023)

The Knowledge Retention and Transfer (KRT) Model aims to institutionalize effective knowledge retention processes throughout the cycle of staff transition. The KRT model supports maintaining programmatic momentum amid staff changes, reducing burdens associated with staff turnover. Effective knowledge handover from outgoing to incoming staff improves productivity, reduces stress and frustration, and provides incoming staff and new hires the tools and information they need to start contributing to organizational goals and objectives right away. The Maturity Matrix is a self-assessment tool to strengthen overall knowledge retention and transfer. The KRT Maturity Matrix is one of the three major components of the KRT Model. It is recommended that the office responsible for KRT use this tool in consultation with staff to:

  1. Understand the current state of knowledge retention and transfer,
  2. Plan, budget, and act on improvements, and
  3. Reinforce best practices.

The Maturity Matrix is meant to be used in conjunction with the KRT Toolkit and Implementation Plan.

The 5P Toolkit (currently under development by the DEIA Office, 2023) USAID works to embed diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility principles in our work at every level. Our people, partnerships, programs, processes, and policies should be inclusive, reflect the diversity of our nation, advance equity, and enhance accessibility. We refer to this holistic approach, which addresses both how we work within our organization and how we engage with partners in our development efforts, as the 5P Framework. To accompany this framework, the Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility has developed a toolkit that can assist missions and bureaus in analyzing each of the Ps. The toolkit helps teams understand where their work currently stands and where they could make improvements to strengthen operational excellence and organizational effectiveness. 

Choose Your Own Adventure: Options for Adapting the Collaborating, Learning & Adapting (CLA) Maturity Self-assessment Process (November 2023)

In 2023, Headlight Consulting submitted a blog to USAID Learning Lab reflecting on the varied ways in which they’ve seen the CLA Maturity Tool facilitated. These range from the original small-group facilitation design to focus group discussions, component-level self-assessments and asynchronous surveys. This downloadable tool lists design choices to think through when customizing each CLA Maturity Self-assessment and Action Planning approach. As the authors of the blog, Amy Leo and Rebecca Askin, note: “Ultimately, the whole point of self-assessment is taking action– answering the question: “what small adjustments can we commit to that will take our collective work to the next level?” To measure CLA maturity over time, the follow-up question isn’t, “Now where are we at on the maturity spectrum?”, but rather “Did we do what we said we would, did it have the effect we thought it would have, where should we focus our energy next?” We couldn’t agree more!