How Three Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting Approaches Help USAID Support Countries on their Journey to Self-Reliance

Aug 12, 2019 by Kristin Lindell Comments (0)

At USAID’s recent Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting (CLA) event, Moving the Needle (MTN) 2019, we not only chanted refrains about CLA to the beat of DC go-go, we also learned, in one session, about three CLA approaches that help USAID make informed, strategic decisions to support countries on their Journey to Self-Reliance:

  • Stacey Young, from USAID’s Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning, discussed USAID’s Self-Reliance Learning Agenda (SRLA). This learning agenda, which guides USAID in generating, collecting, and sharing evidence and facilitating its use, will inform USAID's efforts to support countries on their Journey to Self-Reliance. Developed to be inclusive and useful, the SRLA’s 13 questions represent the critical areas that USAID seeks to understand better in order to achieve more effective development outcomes.
  • Amy Lovejoy, from USAID’s Africa Bureau, presented on the Practical InnoVative On-the-Job Training (PIVOT) program, a change management effort. PIVOT seeks to build the capacity of USAID Mission staff to engage strategically with the private sector in helping to advance countries’ self-reliance.
  • Jessica Lucas from USAID’s U.S. Global Development Lab shared the Lab’s Evaluation, Research and Learning (ERL) Plan. As a utilization-focused learning agenda, the Lab’s ERL Plan facilitates Bureau-wide evidence use in strategic, operational, and programmatic decision-making.

What are some key CLA characteristics in each of the three approaches?


CLA Characteristics of Each Approach
(according to the CLA Framework)

  • Internal & External Collaboration – The SRLA engages with stakeholders within and outside of USAID  to elicit evidence to inform this Agency-wide learning agenda, share the learning it generates, and support utilization.
  • Technical Evidence Base – Through the 13 learning questions, the SRLA  will collect and generate evidence around the Journey to Self-Reliance to inform USAID’s policy and programming decisions.
  • Resources – Expert coaches and mentors provide one-on-one support tailored to the country context and needs.
  • Relationships and Networks – In-person relationship-building supports deeper learning and engagement for more effective partnerships.
  • Pause & Reflect – Semi-annual strategic learning reviews help teams across the Lab internalize ERL Plan findings and conclusions, and collectively prioritize recommendations for action.
  • Adapting – Recommendation action plans identify specific next steps, timelines, and points of contact for implementation of evidence-informed recommendations.

How do these CLA approaches support USAID in operationalizing the Journey to Self-Reliance?

  • As an Agency-wide learning effort, the SRLA will generate evidence related to self-reliance. The lessons learned from the SRLA will then influence decision-making at the technical, operational, and strategic levels in service of the Journey to Self-Reliance.
  • PIVOT focuses specifically on engagement with the private sector, which is a pillar of USAID’s approach to fostering countries’ self-reliance. Lessons from PIVOT will also help address one of the 13 SRLA questions about private sector engagement.
  • The ERL Plan’s utilization focus strongly informed the design of the SRLA. Evidence generated through the ERL Plan will also feed into several different questions across the SRLA.

What key takeaways emerged from the MTN session on these three approaches?

  • For learning agendas, such as SRLA and ERL, designing a Systems-Based Theory of Change helps us understand the activities, stakeholders, and potential results within our manageable interests as well as within a system. A Systems-Based Theory of Change is a process that embeds systems thinking tools within program design to clarify all the conditions, relationships, and behavior change necessary to achieve sustainable  outcomes. It also helps us understand our evidence, contextual implications, and decision-making processes, thus enabling adaptation1.
  • All three approaches aim to change individual and organizational behavior and also need to be adequately resourced to be successful. For learning agendas such as SRLA and ERL, facilitating internalization of evidence and integration of recommendations in order to manage adaptively requires a dedicated cadre of skilled facilitators. In PIVOT, coaches and mentors for groups and individuals play a key role in strengthening staff capacity.
  • Without a doubt, leaders play an instrumental role in supporting all three of these approaches. Not only are leaders not only are critical to allocating staff resources, they’re also critical to making relevant decisions.

What about you?

Are you currently implementing a CLA approach that helps advance country self-reliance? If so, what have your key takeaways been? We’d love to hear from you, so please leave a comment below and/or reach out to the SRLA team at [email protected].

1 Systems-Based Theory of Change definition provided by Rebecca Herrington of Headlight Consulting Services, LLP.