Strengthening Competencies for Evidence-Based Biodiversity Programming
Sara Carlson is a Biodiversity and Natural Resources Advisor in USAID's Biodiversity Division and Lexine Hansen and Natalie Dubois support Measuring Impact II, which offers assistance for best practices in adaptive management and the use of evidence and learning across USAID’s biodiversity portfolio.
Technical teams, Mission staff, and implementing partners all have roles to play as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) implements the Evidence Act and seeks to increase the generation and use of evidence to inform decision-making. Yet, not all team members have the knowledge and skills to play those roles effectively, as the recent USAID Capacity Assessment For Evidence Management and Use found. To address this gap in the biodiversity conservation sector, USAID’s Biodiversity Division developed a resource for technical staff to use when planning programming support. Strengthening Competencies for Evidence-Based Biodiversity Programming describes the knowledge and skills USAID staff and partners use to incorporate evidence in Program Cycle processes and describes ways to introduce and reinforce these competencies when providing technical assistance.
The guide builds on Learning Lab resources, such as USAID’s CLA Toolkit and Biodiversity-specific resources, such as Evidence in Action. In Part I, the guide recognizes three unique functions stakeholders play in generating and using evidence in decision-making:
Supporters (e.g. Program Officers, Contracting Officers, Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning (MEL) specialists, and USAID leadership) influence the enabling environment in which evidence is used and generated.
Practitioners (e.g. AORs/CORs, activity managers, implementing partners) use evidence to inform policy and programming decisions.
Facilitators (e.g. technical staff providing technical assistance to Practitioners) help biodiversity teams incorporate evidence into program decisions.
Program teams use five skills to incorporate evidence into decision-making, easily remembered as the “5As,” a framework USAID biodiversity programming adapted from evidence-based medicine, which has broad uptake in the health sciences. Examples in the guide illustrate how to apply the 5As at different phases of the Program Cycle.
Part 2 describes what stakeholders need to know, understand, and do to effectively use the 5As to achieve their evidence function. Thinking about skills for using and generating evidence in this way can help staff identify opportunities to introduce and reinforce evidence concepts, initiate engagements that promote understanding, and look for and cultivate behaviors that demonstrate the application of evidence to programming.
For example: Program Officers who enable evidence-based programming know evidence is the body of information used to make programmatic and strategic decisions. They understand evidence use and generation iterates within and across Program Cycle stages. Finally, they will use USAID policies and contracts to enable and encourage evidence use and generation.
The guide includes useful examples of common challenges to using evidence for decision-making, such as the perception that evidence use is overly costly and time-consuming, and suggests ways to overcome them. It also provides facilitation prompts staff can use to support others in overcoming challenges. These tips expand and strengthen competencies by encouraging technical staff and evidence stakeholders to learn from each other.
While this guide was designed specifically to support Biodiversity programming, other sectors likely have staff in the same roles requiring similar competencies. The Biodiversity Division recently collaborated with USAID’s Innovation, Technology, and Research Hub to develop a training course using this model to strengthen participants’ competencies to apply research evidence to USAID Biodiversity programming. We hope colleagues in other sectors at USAID and our implementing partners find this guide useful as we work together to implement the Evidence Act at USAID.