Enhancing Sustainability, Obtaining Better Results, and Learning in a Real-Time Environment: USAID Malawi’s Integrated Approach Advances USAID’s Local Solutions Framework

Jun 26, 2015 by Stephen Menard Comments (0)

The USAID mission in Malawi is undertaking some exciting steps to better harmonize their programming by making an integration experiment a cornerstone of its five-year strategic plan, or Country Development Cooperation Strategy (CDCS). The mission is proactively facilitating integration throughout the Program Cycle, which is a series of planning and programming processes that are standard across USAID. In this blog, which appeared on USAID’s internal website, ProgramNet in September 2014, former Malawi Program Officer Stephen Menard described the process as it was designed. In a subsequent blog, we will check back in with Stephen and USAID/Malawi to learn how that experiment is going a year into its implementation.

USAID/Malawi defines integration as applying a “lens of complementarity that allows the Mission to experiment and determine what combination of investments has the most profound impact.” 

Local engagement is a top priority. USAID/Malawi (the Mission) capitalizes on its convening authority to mobilize and integrate partners; taps into local knowledge through an innovative learning approach; focuses resources; leads development partner coordination efforts; and empowers local systems, organizations, and individual Malawians towards a more sustainable future. This new effort emphasizes co-location, coordination and collaboration in three districts: Balaka, Machinga, and Lilongwe Rural. 

The Mission’s innovative learning approach focuses on capacity building and uses targeted geographic mapping to facilitate partner activity integration, examine synergies, and serve as a starting point to validate the CDCS development hypothesis. For example, the Mission developed a spatial baseline of activity locations and local organizations in the three focus districts. The Mission teamed with Peace Corps’ extensive on-the-ground presence to inexpensively map and perform a basic organizational capacity assessment on 495 existing CBOs, and CSOs located across the three focus districts. Additionally, the Mission is implementing a five-year impact evaluation to test this new approach and provide a comprehensive learning agenda over the CDCS period.

Change can be difficult, and changing internal processes and developing team structures is time-consuming. To facilitate the learning process, the Mission created an Integration Committee, represented by the Front Office and all Office Directors, along with three sub-teams dedicated to realizing integration efforts between implementing partners, development partners and local government within the three focus districts. This structure is used in Malawi instead of the Development Objective teams that are used in many other Missions.

In March 2014, at a day-long workshop, the Mission introduced 36 implementers to its new integration approach. The focus of this workshop was to build partner awareness and buy-in to integrated annual work planning that we expect will improve results and increase sustainability. The Mission produced GIS maps to expand partners’ understanding of the overall portfolio and help identify linkage opportunities and potential partnerships. Using a “speed dating” format, partners coordinated with their respective AOR/CORs to discuss and identify linkage activities. 

The Mission Director and Deputy Director, as well as Mission support staff, were present to ensure on-the-spot decisions and clarification. Ten days later, partners submitted work plan modifications for April– September in FY 2014 that included integrated activities with other implementing partners. To build off of this experience, an integrated learning tour took place at the end of May, to share learning among Mission staff, development partners, and implementing partners on the successes and challenges encountered during the implementation of the Mission’s Title II program. USAID/Malawi is also including integration requirements in the scopes of all new procurements.

In June 2014, AORs/CORs received work plan templates and guidance to ensure that FY 2015 work plans included detailed planning and integration activities. Draft work plans and integration summaries were due in late August 2014. This was followed by USAID/Malawi’s first DO-level portfolio review, which examined integration progress to date and established objectives to further integrate USAID/Malawi’s work with local governments and development partners. This portfolio review informed a September 2014 partner workshop, where implementing partners convened to critique and provide peer review of each other’s FY 2015 integrated work plans. These workshops provided a real-time collaborative and learning environment where partners shared portfolio progress, challenges to implementing their approaches, and successes to date. 

The workshop also included discussions on the planned CDCS evaluation of integrated cross-sectoral assistance at the district level, and the Mission’s new integrated institutional capacity development mechanism. The Supporting the Efforts of Partners (STEPS) award forms the core of USAID/Malawi’s commitment to advancing the Agency’s Local Capacity Development Objective. STEPS supports  enhanced organizational and technical capacity and internal governance, enabling targeted CSOs to increase their impact, at both the local and national levels. 

Engagement is key to the Malawi Mission’s collaborative learning and adapting approach. It  allows partners to share concerns, challenges, and opportunities while directly contributing to the Mission’s learning agenda. 

This is an exciting experiment—stay tuned to hear more!

CLA in Action articles are intended to paint a more detailed picture of what collaborating, learning, and adapting (CLA) looks like in practice. Unlike other disciplines, CLA is not a technical "fix;" it looks different in different contexts. This series will showcase examples of intentional collaboration, systematic learning, and resourced adaptation, some of which you may find applicable to your own work. The case studies, blogs, and resources represented in this series document the real-world experiences of development practitioners experimenting with these approaches for the benefit of sharing what's possible.

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