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Community Contribution

Learning about Learning in the Philippines: Stories from a Cross-sectoral Learning Summit

Sep 18, 2018
Josephine Francisco, Meagan Meekins, Rajeev Colaço

This blog post was contributed by Josephine (Josie) Francisco of USAID Philippines and Meagan Meekins and Rajeev Colaço of RTI International.

RTI’s Monitoring, Evaluation, Research, Learning, and Adapting (MERLA) Community of Practice hosted an event titled “From learning to adapting: How do we get to learning, and where do we go from there?” in the Philippines to discuss USAID's Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting (CLA) approach. This summit was an in-country follow up event to a similar Learning Symposium that we hosted in Washington, DC, in May 2018. We wanted to share experiences from the field related to learning and adapting and hold discussions about how we can move beyond traditional M&E practices to a more dynamic learning and adapting model. While USAID missions and partners have long been collaborating, learning, and adapting in various forms, USAID/Philippines recently made its approach to CLA much more intentional by launching the CLA for Improved Health (CLAimHealth) project. Given USAID/Philippines’ long history of cross-sectoral development programming that has adapted through the years with significant contextual changes, we saw an opportunity for rich discussion as the Philippines begins its journey towards learning and adapting. Speakers in the Philippines Learning Summit included:

The event brought together an audience of nearly 140 individuals who contributed to a rich and engaging discussion on CLA, representing a wide spectrum of international development sectors.

RTI Learning Event

Here are a few of our top takeaways from the event:  

Collaborate, learn, and adapt - like a camel

During the keynote, Josie challenged participants to be more like a camel. After a pause for laughter and bewildered looks, we heard all the ways that camels are great role models for thinking about CLA. First, camels always travel in a pack. They know they are better off when they work together, or COLLABORATE. Second, the camel depends heavily on its eyes. Camels have three eyelids to protect their eyes from the harsh desert sand, because their eyes lead them to where they need to go. They constantly LEARN from their surroundings and make decisions about where to go. And lastly, they are highly ADAPTABLE. They have evolved to hold fat in their humps as a backup source of energy for when they do not have access to food and water, thereby ensuring their survival.  

There is no one right way to do CLA

Throughout the day participants shared some of their successful examples of CLA tools and approaches, including monthly data review guides, pause and reflect sessions, and learning agendas.  There is not just one but rather many right ways to do CLA because doing CLA the right way is context specific and context driven. The ENVISION activity discussed how local solutions were key to solving local problems, and that CLA processes, such as learning from M&E data with their Data for Action tool, allowed them to find these context-specific solutions. It is important to think about learning and adapting intentionally and deliberately, rather than as a by-product of the work we do. And in order to do CLA intentionally, we need concrete tools and approaches that are tailored to the local context.

It’s time to address the myth that CLA is expensive and only donor-driven

USAID’s STRIDE activity showed us that the private sector is interested and can invest in projects when CLA is used to increase trust. STRIDE began to connect universities and private industry, but the relationships were forced and untrusting. Through intentional learning and review of activity programming, STRIDE adapted and increased the number of times universities and industry met, instead of holding a few big events a year. This collaboration paid off, as the relationships grew stronger with increased contact. Eventually, the private industry took over the investments that USAID was making, and worked directly with universities. STRIDE used CLA processes (such as pause and reflect sessions) to increase trust and collaboration between the private sector and universities. While incorporating CLA into an existing or new program requires initial investments and funding, once the value of CLA is seen through shared results, it is easier for CLA investments to be leveraged from donors and the public and private sectors. We need to continue to gather evidence to show that CLA can be sustained beyond donor funding as it can lead to tangible benefits for stakeholders.

CLA is effective development

When CLA is carried out through a truly collaborative spirit with ownership by host country governments and local stakeholders, it is not just good and inclusive international development, it is also effective international development. As governments and local stakeholders become equal partners in international development efforts, the achievements of international development programs become more sustainable. As we model and teach CLA practices in our work, they can then be carried forward by local governments and stakeholders to achieve better development outcomes.

Through the discussions and Q&A many other points emerged that deserve further exploration, including how to quantify and show return on investment for CLA and the need to develop best practices for identifying and building CLA champions with programs and local governments. Stay tuned for more on this from the RTI MERLA Community of Practice ([email protected]), #RTILearns.