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Community Contribution

Using the CLA Maturity Tool, Virtually

Mar 23, 2021
Monica Matts

Nearly five years ago, the CLA and the LEARN contract developed the Collaborating, Learning and Adapting (CLA) Maturity Tool to help USAID missions and offices think more deliberately about how to plan for and implement CLA approaches. In the years since, many USAID and implementing partner teams have used the tool. They have found it helpful in a number of ways. By engaging in a facilitated conversation using the maturity tool, teams have been able to build a common understanding of Collaborating, Learning and Adapting and the enabling conditions that support it, generate enthusiasm, and bring collective energy to planning for CLA approaches and practices. We also understand that participants in the CLA self-assessment and action planning experience have found the process fun and engaging, in part because using the tool is a tactile experience and that can feel like a game.

The need for and interest in CLA hasn’t diminished during the past year, even though our ability to engage with a physical version of the tool has. Like with many other things this year, USAID staff realized the need to pivot from the physical CLA maturity tool to an approach that would work with remote staff. 

The CLA champions in USAID have experimented with using the CLA maturity tool virtually, and we’re happy to report that it works! Similar to other convenings, using the maturity tool in a virtual setting requires some different approaches than you would use in person. Here are some tips and challenges to watch out for, according to our experienced facilitators:

  • The cards translate easily into a slide format. Here is a version that we’ve found helpful. If you have your participants working in Google slides, they can all be in the deck at the same time, reading through the content of the cards, and moving dots or markers to ‘vote’ on the maturity stage. 
  • While easy to use, having slides function as a working space could lead to groupthink. Participants may, for example, be tempted to watch how others use their dot votes before making their own assessment. In person, we’re able to mitigate this tendency by asking everyone to mark their ‘vote’ at the same time; that’s more challenging in the virtual setting.
  • As with most virtual meetings, the loss of visual cues can make facilitation difficult. It can be harder to sense the energy in the ‘room’, to know when participants are ready to contribute, or to draw out those less inclined to speak. Ensuring meaningful and robust participation in the process can be a bit more challenging in a virtual setting. 

In some ways, the virtual setting has advantages:

  • The chat function can be helpful in eliciting feedback, particularly from quieter participants. 
  • Using virtual tools may help save time and creates more permanent records of the process. For example, after an in-person self-assessment session, someone would need to convert inputs from sticky notes or flipcharts into a written action plan. In a virtual meeting, you can have participants put their inputs into the plan directly.

For all of the differences between virtual and in-person facilitation of the maturity tool, there are also many similarities. Many of the principles for using the tool apply, whether it’s done in person or online--including the importance of having an experienced facilitator to plan and manage the discussion; engaging all of the participants in the ‘room’ and valuing their contributions; ensuring that you have set aside adequate time for these important conversations; and understanding that the conversation inspired by the tool is more important than reaching consensus on any element of the self-assessment. 

Similarly, many of the tools in our toolbox work equally well in the virtual space, with perhaps just a few tweaks needed. Resources like the facilitator talking points and report templates can be useful whatever the setting. 

We are excited to see how users continue to adapt and use the maturity tool to meet their needs, and we hope others consider using it. If your team might benefit from learning more about CLA and engaging in planning around it, this might be the tool for you--whether you’re working remotely or in the office.