Four Years Later: How Our Community has been Inspired by the CLA Maturity Tool

Mar 6, 2020 by Monica Matts & Monalisa Salib Comments (0)

About four years ago, we shared the Collaborating, Learning & Adapting (CLA) Framework with our USAID Learning Lab community and started using the associated CLA Maturity Tool with USAID Missions and implementing partners. For those who aren’t familiar with the tool, teams and operating units use it to self-assess their CLA practice and plan ways to improve that practice, in service of greater organizational effectiveness and better development outcomes. It is a tool that models CLA in how it is used:

  • Teams come together to discuss their practice using a set of cards (see image below) that describe a spectrum of maturity for each sub-component outlined in the CLA Framework.
  • Team members learn from each other’s perspectives and practices and gain a deeper understanding of their team.
  • They use that information to adapt how they work. They decide on key priorities, those that would be most beneficial to their work, and determine an action plan for making those ideas a reality.

Image: Example of the CLA Maturity Tool Spectrum for Continuous Learning & Improvement (Not Yet Present to Institutionalized)

Since the tool’s creation, we’ve witnessed how the development community has been inspired by and innovated on many of the concepts and approaches from the CLA Maturity Tool. Several teams have created new tools that speak to specific organizational needs. Here are a few of the inspired tools that we know of  - and, let us know if we’re missing some!

  • Chris Collison, a consultant who has worked with USAID’s Bureau for Policy, Planning & Learning and USAID LEARN was inspired to create a more gamified version of the tool in his work with the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). He writes, “... the CLA cards had inspired... my project to build an assessment model about ‘quality improvement’, and then gamify it...People lay out their position, discuss differences, vote on priorities...and then find the card which describes their target, and flip it to access a QR code, which links to a shared folder of knowledge resources and connections to help them reach out and progress.  As more and more hospitals in the UK use the game, we will create a ‘River Diagram’ to help them find people they can learn from. I’m convinced that being able to hold in your hand a description of ‘what good looks like’, makes all the difference - and I’m grateful to the CLA team for being such a good practice to learn from.”


Image: Prototype of the quality improvement self-assessment and action planning process designed by consultant Chris Collison for the UK NHS 

  • Mercy Corps created Adapt Scan (soon to be released) after learning about the CLA Maturity Tool from USAID LEARN. We carried out a Before Action Review with the Mercy Corps team planning to develop and pilot Adapt Scan and they used our experience to directly inform the creation of their tool. Adapt Scan is based on Mercy Corps and IRC’s adaptive factors framework and, similar to the CLA Maturity Tool, is used to self-assess and action plan on the adaptive factors that would enable more effective programming. 
  • USAID’s Office of Forestry and Biodiversity is developing their own “Biodiversity Programming Maturity Matrix.” The tool is intended to communicate standards for implementing high-impact biodiversity and integrated development programs and to provide a framework for identifying good practice that aligns with the Program Cycle, USAID’s Biodiversity Policy and the Biodiversity Code. Like the CLA tool, the Biodiversity Maturity Matrix describes a spectrum of practice along certain components of the CLA framework like Collaboration and Theory of Change as they apply to biodiversity programming. The tool is meant to be used by USAID staff for self-assessment and planning purposes. The Office of Forestry and Biodiversity expects to begin testing the tool soon.
  • USAID’s Center for Excellence in Democracy, Rights & Governance (DRG Center) has also adapted the CLA maturity tool to create a draft DRG Integration Maturity Matrix, which it has used during its past two annual DRG integration trainings for USAID staff. Similar to the way we use the CLA Maturity Tool, the DRG Center’s Cross Sectoral Programs (CSP) Team has used the DRG Maturity Matrix to help training participants identify the degree to which their missions or bureaus integrate DRG concerns and approaches into their work. The Matrix also has encouraged staff to focus on opportunities and challenges to DRG integration by asking questions that help identify both programmatic and work process entry points for cross-sectoral work. CSP is in the process of refining the tool for the next DRG Integration training scheduled for June 2020.

What we find most encouraging about these tools is that they:

  • Model CLA in how they are used. Similar to the CLA Maturity Tool, these tools “walk the talk” on CLA. Team members collaborate by coming together to reflect on their existing work practices and determine how to improve and adapt in service of better outcomes. The process for using the tool is just as important, if not more important, than the tool itself.
  • Rely on self-assessment to create a sense of ownership for the results. Many organizational assessments are completed by management consultants who are external to the team. They may interview people and write a report with recommendations. In contrast, a self-assessment approach allows a team to decide on focus areas and agree on priorities and areas for improvement.
  • Encourage incremental and realistic change. Rather than suggesting large-scale reform, these tools encourage choices based on the teams’ needs, context and available resources. This approach allows teams to start with smaller-scale, incremental changes that are easier to embrace and take action on, in order to build momentum for larger reform.
  • Take an inclusive approach to participation. These tools provide ways for staff of all types and in varying positions an opportunity to contribute to the self-assessment. All voices and perspectives are valued with these tools. 

In our work with USAID Missions, the CLA Maturity Tool has proven to be one of our team’s most helpful tools, and the self-assessment and action planning process that it supports is one of the most appreciated. Seeing how other teams and organizations have iterated on the tool, or developed something similar to suit their needs, is a gratifying development and shows how applicable this process is across sectors and disciplines.