How USAID/Guatemala Is Using Collaboration and an Integrated Approach to Achieve Development Objectives
Through the Western Highlands Integrated Program (WHIP) USAID/Guatemala is “forging a new way of doing business[i].” The effort, which aims to reduce poverty and chronic malnutrition in selected municipalities, is notable for its thorough and systematic approach to collaboration between technical offices in the Mission, with government entities at the central and local level, and with implementing partners. This story describes the origins of WHIP and what makes it a model of learning and collaboration in action.
Guatemala is a priority country for several Presidential Initiatives, including Feed the Future (FTF) and the Global Health Initiative. As part of the strategic planning process for these initiatives, USAID/Guatemala decided to focus its programming in the parts of the country with the highest concentrations of poverty and malnutrition and the opportunities and potential for increased income —the Western Highlands. The approach was further solidified in the Mission’s Country Development Cooperation Strategy (CDCS) for 2012-2016. One of the three Development Objectives outlined in the CDCS, “improved levels of economic growth and social development in the Western Highlands,” is based on the hypothesis that simultaneous improvements in economic opportunities and access to health, nutrition and education services—rather than income generation alone—will create social and economic growth.
Evolution of Integration
Mission staff across technical offices collaborated on the design of projects and implementing mechanisms to ensure consistency and complementarity. USAID/Guatemala technical staff developed a list of objectives, which they termed the “FTF Principles,” that were included in all solicitation documents. The principles included:
- Linking value chains with nutrition and dietary diversity
- Behavior change for improved nutrition
- Sustainability through local governance
- Leveraging private sector resources, and
- Coordinating with other USAID partners
In 2011, USAID/Guatemala created an intra-mission working group for WHIP that includes representatives from each of the technical offices. The group continues to meet regularly to ensure continued integration and communication among technical teams, and the meetings are a forum for developing strategies, brainstorming opportunities for linkages, sharing information, and planning for site visits and field-level coordination.
In early 2013, the Mission piloted the coordination model with partners in El Quiche, a department in the Western Highlands. The initial partner meeting provided an opportunity for implementers to understand all of the programs in that area and to select a lead partner. Within the Ixil Triangle of El Quiche, implementing partners in the region developed a joint workplan including all of the technical sectors and projects engaged there. In the following months, the Mission and implementing partners established a working group at the central level to mirror the structure of the Mission’s WHIP working group. The Central Coordinating Committee developed a letter of understanding to formalize their agreement to integrate their programs. Three additional coordination committees have been formed at the departmental level, like the initial one in El Quiche. In early December 2013, the Central Coordinating Committee worked with the National Association of Municipal Mayors to hold a first Forum on Reducing Chronic Malnutrition and Poverty for the 30 municipalities where the WHIP is focused. USAID/Guatemala is also in the process of hiring a staff member who will live and work in the Western Highlands and support the WHIP coordination efforts at all levels.
Elements of Success
USAID/Guatemala is planning to conduct an impact evaluation, to be completed in 2015, to test the Mission’s development hypothesis about integrated programming. Meanwhile, anecdotal evidence indicates that WHIP has created positive change in how USAID and its implementing partners do their work. Partners have established a highly cooperative environment, with USAID-funded activities working together toward a common goal. The partner working groups collaborate closely with government officials and the private sector and are beginning to speak with one voice about their programs to local officials and communities. WHIP’s success has inspired others within the Mission to collaborate across technical offices and to formalize coordination with and between partners.
Of course, the effort to institutionalize WHIP has not been without its challenges. Coordination at this scale requires resources and time, often from staff who are already busy. Cooperating on large complex problems can be difficult; it can seem easier to implement activities in isolation. Implementing partners and technical offices may be reluctant to collaborate, if it means letting go of some amount of ‘ownership’ over their sector-specific activities.
Several factors have contributed to WHIP’s success.
- Mission Leadership. The Mission Director’s commitment to collaboration set the tone among USAID staff and with implementing partners. The USAID technical working group for WHIP reported directly to the Mission Director. He acknowledged implementing partners’ concerns, recognized their work and thanked them for participating in the working groups. See the Mission Director’s letter to partners in Quiche as an example (Annex II, in this report).
- Codifying cooperation. Many missions coordinate across technical offices and encourage their partners to collaborate on their programs. In Guatemala, principles of collaboration are written into implementing mechanisms and established in letters of understanding between partners. The Mission has established processes, including regular meetings, to ensure a space for coordination and relationship-building.
- Commitment and patience. WHIP evolved over a course of several years, and the related structures and mechanisms changed during that time. With a Mission and partners that understand the program’s goals and are committed to learning, the model has adapted, but the objective has remained the same.
For more information on WHIP, see this report.
[i] USAID/Guatemala Mission Director (former) Kevin Kelly, Integration in Western Highlands report
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.