Skip to main content

Frequently Asked Questions on CLA Self-Assessment and Action Planning

The following questions and answers focus on facilitation approaches and processes for the CLA Self-Assessment and Action Planning. For additional questions, please contact [email protected]. Please note: these FAQs are still in draft form and may change.

What do you do when the initial self-assessment votes are widespread across the spectrum?

The first step is to figure out where the divergence is coming from. It may be that participants are considering the sub-component stages with a different unit of analysis in mind. Start by asking one of the people who voted for a stage at either end of the spectrum to explain the rationale for their vote and then have someone at the other end of the spectrum explain their rationale. Listen for any indication that the participants are basing their decision on a different understanding of “the team”—a sub-unit vs. an entire technical office. If this is the case, remind everyone about the agreed-upon unit of analysis and ask the appropriate person to reconsider their vote.

If the unit of analysis isn’t the issue and the participants simply have different perspectives, probe deeper into the examples they include in the rationale for their votes. Encourage them to try to convince each other by explaining how their examples best illustrate the stage they chose and then see if anyone has been persuaded to change their vote. Consensus isn’t required, but it is nice.

Is it important to have the participants reach a consensus on the current stage?

Because the conversation between the team is more important than the final decision about the stage, there is no need to push participants to agree—consensus is nice, but isn’t required. Depending on your comfort level as a facilitator, if the group has discussed the issue but is still struggling to agree on a stage, you can suggest one based on what you have heard to get a reaction from participants and move the conversation forward, but ultimately, they need to make the final determination. If the group is caught between two stages, consider seeing if they would agree to a compromise, e.g., Expanding+ as a compromise between Expanding and Advanced.

Can you do action planning immediately after each subcomponent self-assessment?

Our current recommendation is to conduct action planning (especially if you will use the extended action planning process) after you’ve finished all of the self-assessment rounds because the participants will be better able to prioritize among their action items if they have reflected on all of the relevant CLA framework subcomponents via the self-assessment process.

That said, if you plan to conduct the subcomponent self-assessments in multiple sessions over time (e.g. self-assessing one subcomponent during regular team meetings over a period of time), you may consider action planning after each self-assessment.

Should you have leaders in the room or do them separately?

Leadership participation demonstrates the importance of this process to staff and is critical to ensure their buy-in for action planning and implementation. Leaders should signal the importance of this process to staff, not only by encouraging/requiring them to participate, but also by attending appropriate sessions themselves. That said, their presence and participation could also impact power dynamics during the session. You should be aware of this and ensure all participants can contribute equally through sufficient preparation and strong facilitation techniques.

If, during your session preparation (e.g., through key informant interviews), you identify that a leader may be disruptive to the process, it may help to discuss their role with them prior to the session. Explain how the process will work and that the most value will come from open and candid conversations. Help them understand how they can ensure broad participation by encouraging others to speak first. Let them know how critical their perspective will be, especially during the action planning prioritization process.

Please note that if leadership is resistant to this process, then the organization is likely not CLA-ready and you may want to reconsider using the structured CLA self-assessment and action planning process with the CLA Maturity Tool. Instead, using the CLA framework to begin initial conversations might make more sense.

Can people vote anonymously?

In the spirit of CLA, we prefer to encourage openness and candor throughout the CLA Maturity Tool process and so do not advocate for anonymous voting. That said, if participants are reticent to share, you could consider having them either place the individual stage card with their vote face down in the middle of the table or hand them to you. You would then reveal the cards and ask prompting questions to continue the conversation. In this case, you would need to give participants enough individual stage decks to cover the number of anticipated sub-components since they won’t be able to reuse them. This option is only for more extreme cases as it will be difficult to have participants share their opinions regarding why they see themselves at a certain stage, which is more important than the stage itself. 

Is there an electronic version I could send out ahead of time to collect data?

At this time, the CLA Maturity Self-Assessment and Action Planning process is an in-person facilitated process and there is not an electronic survey version.

How many subcomponents should you cover? Should you self-assess on all of them?

We normally don’t advocate for a team to try and self-assess all 16 subcomponents of the CLA Framework. This is, in part, because it would take a great deal of time, but also because one of the things we encourage teams to think about is prioritization and identifying which components of the framework are the most relevant for their current context and work. Beyond that, we don’t have a specific recommendation for how many subcomponents to cover—it’s more about the time a team has to devote to the exercise. Our rule of thumb is about 20 minutes per self-assessment round. The one thing we do encourage is to pick a mix of subcomponents from both the CLA in the Program Cycle and the Enabling Conditions sides of the Framework.

If a team really wants to cover the entire CLA Framework, perhaps to set a baseline, you can either set aside a day or distribute the self-assessment rounds over time, such as by incorporating them into a regular team meeting.

Will there be a version of the Tool tailored to partners?

At this time, the CLA Maturity Tool is a USAID mission-focused tool, but much of the content is equally relevant for partners. If other organizations are interested in using the Tool and adjust any illustrative mission-specific content to tailor it more for partners, we’d love to hear about the edits you make. Though the physical card decks are intended for use primarily by USAID missions, the same content is available in the CLA Maturity Spectrum handouts available for download here.

Would you ever have teams self-facilitate?

Self-facilitation makes it hard for the team member trying to lead the discussion to fully participate. Moreover, most mission teams we’ve talked to told us that they would prefer to have an ‘external’ facilitator guide them through the process, but that could be someone else from within the mission.

If, however, self-facilitation is the only option, the team member leading the process should just be clear throughout the session about when they are ‘taking off their facilitator's hat’ to join the discussion as a participant.

Do they have to settle on a particular card, or can they do half steps? 

See question #2, but this is largely up to what you feel comfortable with as a facilitator.

Is there one right way to facilitate the self-assessment and action planning process?

No. This process meant to help guide a conversation about where teams are in their CLA practice and how they might want to improve. The format of that conversation and how it is facilitated will really depend on what makes sense for the team. The process described in the Instructions (which also includes various options) is just to help you get started. 

If you do try a different process or facilitation approach, please let us know how it goes by emailing [email protected].

When should you do action idea brainstorming?

In the original design, we suggested doing ALL of the self-assessment rounds and THEN brainstorming, selecting the priority ideas and completing an action plan for them. That way does work.

Another way you may consider structuring things is to do a mini brainstorming session after each self-assessment round, then, once all of the self-assessment and brainstorming rounds are done, share the ideas, choose the priority ideas, and then action plan.

We still strongly recommend sharing, selecting, and action planning on the ideas together at the end because then you can truly prioritize the best ideas across the full set of ideas presented. But by brainstorming after each self-assessment, participants might be able to come up with relevant and useful ideas more easily for the subcomponent they have just finished discussing. The only consideration is that this will likely take more time, because you'll need time for brainstorming after each round rather than just one brainstorming session at the mid-point before action planning.

Also, logistically speaking, if you are breaking your self-assessment and action planning sessions up into two sessions, you'll need a way to collect people's ideas at the end of session 1 and give them back at the beginning of session 2 for sharing. While it would be easier to synthesize and share then yourself as the facilitator at the beginning of session 2 (and we've certainly tried it that way), participants might feel less ownership of the ideas.

What should the action plan look like?

In the Tool Instructions (available here), we suggested the following columns be completed in the Action Plan for the chosen ideas:

We added the last column specifically to reinforce the idea that CLA is not meant to be additive, but works much better when it is integrated into existing processes or activities is manageable ways.

Different team members have tweaked this table in different ways over the year and we have a few additional versions you can consider:

Option 2:

Option 3:

You can see that these are all pretty similar, so it is more a matter of wording preference. Feel free to develop a format that works for you.

Why do you use an Effort/Impact grid?

In the Tool instructions, we suggest using an Effort/Impact grid when sharing the post-it note results of the brainstorming to help people prioritize before dot-voting. By placing their ideas along axes of the effort the idea will take and the impact they expect it to have, participants begin to consider useful criteria for their ideas relative to the other ideas shared. We suggest that the person with the idea proposes where on the grid their idea falls, but that others in the group can give input if they have a perspective about the effort and/or impact of that idea. The group can then see, in a very visual way, ideas that would be easy to undertake with a big payoff (aka low hanging fruit) vs. ideas that would require a lot of effort without much impact (non-starters). We often find that a lot of ideas end up in the high effort/high impact area, which is fine.

In some places, participants have struggled to place their ideas on the grid, so two other options are to:

  • Post the ideas up without trying to indicate level of effort or expected impact (although still do cluster similar ideas); OR
  • Rather than a grid, use a table with columns for Effort and Impact. Participants only have to indicate high, medium or low without having to compare those levels to those of the other ideas shared.

How do you support/ensure follow-through on the Action Plan?

It is an important step in the action planning process to have an explicit conversation about accountability and how the group wants to commit to checking back in on the Action Plan they've just developed. Maybe they want to do a check-in at their monthly team meeting. Maybe they'll add a standing item on their weekly meeting agenda to ask for any updates. Whatever it is, capture it and include it in the Action Plan!

Here are some other ideas we are still trying out ourselves:

  • Start the action planning process with a conversation about personal agency, i.e. encouraging people to take it and not rely on leadership.
  • Always require pairs of POCs and, in a USAID Mission context, encourage at least one of the pair to be an FSN. Then they can support one another and hold each other accountable.
  • Ask people to include ideas in the brainstorming that they would lead - and put their names on it.
  • End the session with a personal commitments exercise.