Skip to main content
Community Contribution

To Fine-tune Integrated Resilience Programming, Let Learning Be Your Guide

Nov 21, 2023
Bersabeh Beyene, Kathleen Flower, Tom Ross, Patrick Sommerville

Innovation and locally led approaches can go hand in hand with the development of learning agendas, even those—maybe especially those—associated with complex programming. In this blog, we tell the story of how the USAID Ethiopia Resilience Learning Activity (RLA) team used CLA principles and locally led approaches to develop a portfolio-level Resilience Learning Agenda that will guide Resilience Collective Action Platform in Year 2 of the project and beyond. 

Resilience—the ability to manage through adversity and change, without compromising future well-being—is a key contributor to human health, happiness, and economic advancement. USAID Ethiopia’s resilience-building portfolio is among the largest and most complex in the world, meaning the Mission receives and manages an overwhelming quantity of data and information on resilience efforts and outcomes. To fine-tune resilience programming and ensure evidence guides decision-making in dynamic contexts, RLA implemented four key innovations to develop the learning agenda.

Innovation 1. Triangulating Information Needs

Learning agendas often start with a single theory of change, information source, or gathering process to elicit initial inputs. Given the complexity and breadth of topics covered in the resilience portfolio, we expanded our approach using three independent information gathering processes and then coordinated findings across them. We began by interviewing 18 USAID Ethiopia staff, resilience practitioners, and other stakeholders, focusing on where individuals, activities, and organizations felt strong in their knowledge base or where they sought CLA and resilience support. We then analyzed activity-level learning agendas alongside learning agendas at the Agency, Ethiopia-Mission, and intervention levels—encompassing a total of 276 learning questions. In parallel, we conducted an evidence gap analysis that laid out where there was strong, moderate, or weak evidence for assumed linkages related to resilience. Our team triangulated the findings to arrive at a high-level set of potential priority information needs.

Image - Participants Interact with Learning Space Themes and Provide Feedback at the Platform Launch Workshop

Woman points at poster


People look at poster

Innovation 2: Enabling Locally Led Design through our Collective Action Platform

Our RLA Collective Action Platform approach centers on ensuring local ownership, with local teams leading priority generation, identification, and implementation. To do this, we convened stakeholders to develop, refine, and prioritize their ideas and used facilitation practices that acknowledged existing power dynamics to draw out all participants’ perspectives. For the Learning Agenda design, we facilitated two workshops and supported intermediate groups to generate, prioritize, and finalize learning questions and propose communities of practice for startup. Collectively, this group of over 150 resilience community stakeholders consolidated the 276 learning questions to 25 top-priority areas of inquiry; then identified four questions that the local communities of practice will address over the coming year. Facilitating inclusive processes that support locally led prioritization, ownership, and research of learning activities is core to RLA’s approach to design and reflects locally led development best practices.

Innovation 3: Linking to Resilience Theory

USAID recommends that learning questions in a learning agenda clearly link to strategic objectives or goals. Given the breadth and extent of USAID Ethiopia’s resilience investments we used resilience theory to structure our learning agenda rather than tying it to a specific results framework. To consolidate and prioritize learning questions, we assessed alignment with a common resilience framework that looked at five aspects of resilience, corresponding to levels of programming and several lines of inquiry.

The final Learning Agenda includes 25 priority learning questions across the impact, portfolio, and intervention levels and recommends potential investigation methods for each. The community recommended 4 RLA-supported communities of practice that collectively respond to more than 10 learning questions. In each case, RLA is hiring local experts to work with cross-activity teams to conduct research and develop learning products.

Image – RLA’s Conceptual Framework for Resilience Measurement

RLA’s Conceptual Framework for Resilience Measurement

Innovation 4: Learning agenda as a framework for CLA and collective action support

The RLA Learning Agenda not only guides broad inquiry and the design of learning events, but also has provided structure for teams to:

  • Define communities of practice, who will work on specific urgent information needs on an ongoing basis.
  • Develop a research agenda that contributes information and evidence around learning questions. 

In the future, we intend that the Learning Agenda will also:

  • Inform the procurement of grants under contract that program research connected to the Learning Agenda.
  • Identify focal areas for data management and visualization.
  • Structure our knowledge management system, including pages for the Learning Agenda and evidence relevant to learning questions, pages for communities of practice, and expert webinars on key topics.
  • Illuminate areas for innovation around all aspects of resilience and resilience programming.
  • Fine-tune a capacity strengthening approach around CLA and innovations.

Managing complexity and change is inherent both to organizational learning and resilience programming. In developing the RLA Learning Agenda, we’ve aimed to embrace the complexity of both, innovate with partners, and ultimately let learning be our guide.

About RLA: USAID Ethiopia’s Resilience Learning Activity (RLA) acts as the “learning sidecar” to the Mission’s investment in 20 resilience activities representing more than $1 billion investment in this resilience focal country. RLA supports USAID Ethiopia in uniting and galvanizing resilience learning in Ethiopia using USAID’s key resilience approaches and frameworks, and using a structured approach to connect learning levels, and to align with USAID’s higher level learning goals. In line with USAID’s draft updated resilience policy, RLA works with 20 diverse USAID-funded resilience projects that include food distribution, agriculture, market systems, education, livelihoods, peacebuilding, WASH, equity and social inclusion, and private sector-led economic growth. Partners LINC, Environmental Incentives, and JaRco implement RLA through three main pillars of Collective Action for Resilience; Collaborate, Learn, Adapt; Resilience Research; and Scaling Resilience Innovations. To tie these pillars together around a common set of priorities, RLA led the development of a platform-wide Learning Agenda, described above, that represents the current, shared learning interests of USAID and its resilience partners. 

About the authors
Woman Headshot
Bersabeh Beyene

Bersabeh Beyene is the Chief of Party for USAID/Ethiopia's Resilience Learning Activity. She has close to 20 years of experience in development and has successfully designed, implemented, and managed programs across various sectors such as private sector development, trade, land, agriculture, energy, and irrigation. Bersabeh has a deep appreciation for Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning as an integrated component of the Program Cycle. Over the course of her career, she has developed evaluation tools and processes, she has trained teams in data collection and analysis as a tool for continuous learning and improvement and has participated in multiple RCTs to evaluate the impact of IRC’s economic empowerment program on the reduction of the incidence of intimate partner violence in Central and West Africa.

Woman headshot
Kathleen Flower

Kathleen leads Environmental Incentive's Evidence and Evaluation Service Line. Her experience and expertise bridge a background in quantitative and qualitative analytical approaches to science communications, evidence-informed decision making, organizational strengthening, and behavior change. Kathleen brings twenty years of experience in international conservation and development to lead a technical team that supports evidence-based decision making and catalyzes organizational learning and adaptive management. Her skills in strategic planning, technical writing, strategic communications, and project leadership. Her professional experience includes leading capacity development initiatives for multiple stakeholder groups; conducting robust research and analysis; technical writing; bridging the science-practitioner (or, “knowing-doing”) gap; and international development.  

Headshot of Man
Tom Ross

Tom Ross is Senior Technical Expert and IDIQ Manager for USAID’s Compliance and Capacity Support for Diverse Partnership at Environmental Incentives. He has over 20 years of progressive experience in leading complex international development projects that focus on capacity strengthening, learning, and adaptive management. He has worked domestically and internationally with various international NGOs and with the U.S. Peace Corps. He currently lives in Amman, Jordan with his wife, son, dog, and cat. 

Headshot of Man
Patrick Sommerville

Patrick Sommerville, Managing Director, is an experienced project manager, leader, and technical innovator in local systems strengthening. In 2022-2023, he served as Chief of Party to the USAID/Ethiopia Resilience Learning Activity. He is a co-founder of LINC.

Working with hundreds of local organizations in more than fifteen countries for nearly two decades, Mr. Sommerville has developed an intimate understanding of their ideas and ambitions, and led numerous program design, evaluation and advisory activities to bring them into fruition. Prior to joining LINC, Mr. Sommerville was a consultant to some of the most well-known donors and firms in the industry, designing and executing strategy, developing technical approaches, and leading assessment and impact evaluations. He has served as Country Director/Chief of Party for major USAID and host country government funded projects in both the Republic of Georgia and Jordan.