CLA in Uganda: Creating Feedback Loops for Real-Time Adaptation
On Wednesday, February 24th, I had the opportunity to participate in a USAID presentation that sought to raise up successful uses of collaborating, learning, and adapting (CLA) in the field and share lessons learned widely across the development sector to promote learning. I heard Betsy Bassan, the President, CEO, and Founder of Panagora Group, speak about her organization’s experience using a process of “continuous evaluation” that her team employed in Uganda. To tackle low literacy rates and rising HIV infections, the Government of Uganda began a program that strategically paired reading instruction with health and HIV/AIDS education in primary and secondary schools. Panagora pioneered a process of appreciative and constructive feedback in order to get performance evaluation data to the implementing partners in real time.
Clear feedback loops need to be nurtured for CLA to work. In order for CLA to be successfully incorporated into day-to-day work, real-time feedback loops need to be intentionally established and maintained. For Betsy and her team in Uganda, they found that the monthly performance review process was successful largely because it was ongoing. The staff in Uganda knew from the start that part of their job was to respond to feedback and demonstrate improvement in the project’s operation and so they came prepared with updates at each performance review check-in. There was no ambiguity with what was expected of both Panagora and the staff in Uganda. Both groups were accountable to one another to follow up on the decisions they agreed on. The fact that everyone was on the same page (largely due to the frequency of performance review check-ins) increased follow up and action on behalf of both groups.
Moreover, because the performance review process was highly valued, sufficient time and resources were dedicated to it, which increased the utility of the process for both Panagora and the SHRP team. Ultimately, Betsy’s team found that the cycle of collaborating and learning must be intentionally nurtured and clear feedback loops between groups need to be established in order to increase the likelihood of real-time adaptation in programs.
Continuous monitoring and staff reflection need to be prioritized in order for partners to make real-time adjustments to programs. Betsy’s team realized that evaluations were happening too infrequently to be able to inform decision-making in real-time. They also realized that the data they received during the performance review check-in was extremely valuable and was only possible to capture through a process of continuous evaluation. It was not possible to capture the need for mid-course adjustments in either a performance or impact evaluation and if they were captured, it would be “too little, too late.”
For this reason, Betsy and her team created a process of continuous evaluation which involved holding monthly meetings over Skype to discuss the feedback they gave to the SHRP country management team. In advance of the meeting, Betsy’s team would share their performance review memo with the SHRP team and the SHRP team would share back their comments and questions. The meeting served as a helpful forum for both Panagora and the SHRP team to clarify points, make suggestions, and commit to action. In addition to reflecting as a team, the meeting provided valuable real-time feedback to SHRP teams to inform adaptive program management.
Most often, project work takes precedent over time for staff learning and team reflection, especially in resource-strapped environments. Learning and adaptation often do not occur unless they are prioritized by staff and implementing partners. For Betsy and her team in Uganda, they were able to carve out staff time necessary for collective learning and reflection and the overall project benefitted tremendously from the time they designated specifically for CLA.
The value of appreciative and constructive feedback. One of the challenges that Betsy’s group faced in Uganda was how to improve performance without judging it. As an evaluator, this struck a chord with me. Betsy explained how her team utilized both appreciative and constructive feedback in order to highlight what was done well and what could have been done better. They found that this approach increased receptivity of feedback by implementing partners on the ground and their action follow up.
For example, after an observation period, the Uganda CLA team noted that the training sessions were not being delivered systemically and many trainings lacked supplementary materials. This sparked a discussion between SHRP and the Panagora CLA Team about the procedures for training as a whole. As a result, SHRP developed facilitator guides for all trainers and required that they provide “learner primers” in adequate amounts at the training venues for participants. This is one of the ways in which the continuous feedback cycle created by Panagora improved the overall function of the program in real time.
Take a look at the full CLA case study or watch the interview with Betsy below for more detail about Panagora’s process!