Two Acronyms, One Goal: Applying PSE and CLA for Better Development Outcomes

Apr 17, 2020 by Beverly Hoover and Jacqueline Rojas Comments (0)

With USAID’s Private Sector Engagement (PSE) Policy, we are shifting to work hand-in-hand with the private sector to design and deliver our development and humanitarian programs across all technical areas. You may be  familiar with the tools and approaches essential for integrating PSE throughout your programming. But have you ever thought about how Collaborating, Learning and Adapting (CLA) can inform and support better PSE?

The examples below illustrate how Missions and implementing partners have used CLA and PSE approaches in achieving development outcomes:

  • The Better Coffee Harvest program (2014-2018), a private sector partnership that worked to improve the livelihoods of smallholder coffee farmers in El Salvador and Nicaragua, realized that external collaboration with for actors in this sector, as well as creating a culture of openness with them, was essential to driving sector-wide change. After participating in roundtables where project results were discussed, industry stakeholders, who were historically siloed, signed new sales contracts, formed new partnerships, and launched private-sector initiatives to address long-standing challenges in the sector.
  • In 2015, the World Bank ranked Serbia among the worst five countries in the world in the Doing Business report. One area of particular struggle was the process of getting construction permits. Using a CLA approach, USAID Serbia’s Business Enabling Project (BEP) brought private-sector stakeholders together with the government to improve the permitting process, and thus the enabling environment for further economic growth. USAID acted as a convener and supported an external review of the permitting process and local consultations, leading to significant streamlining. As a result of this effort, 45% more construction permits were issued in 2018 than 2016. In addition, Serbia rose from 186th place in the World Bank’s 2015 Doing Business list in the area of issuing construction permits to 10th place in the 2018 edition.
  • USAID’s Africa Bureau Division for Economic Growth, Environment and Agriculture (EGEA) launched the Practical, InnoVative, On-the-job Training (PIVOT) Cohort program in March 2019 to build internal capacities and support PSE readiness in six Africa Missions. The PIVOT program, which modeled CLA in its implementation, has helped develop competencies in PSE, CLA, and leadership to aid in change management related to PSE across these missions.

These stories, while just short snippets, have one thing in common - they are examples of where PSE and CLA intersect to deliver better development outcomes.

CLA is best understood as an approach--a mindset--that enables us to think more deliberately about how strategic collaboration, continuous learning and adaptive management can improve organizational effectiveness and enable better development results. Applying this mindset to PSE work prompts us to contextualize these practices more specifically to the actors and content involved. The graphic below depicts what applying the CLA approach can look like for PSE (you can also find a printable version here).

 PSE and the CLA Framework

Let’s dig in a bit more on this idea to clarify the connection between the nuances of PSE and CLA.  In the table below, we’ve expanded upon the concepts presented above to draw even more connections between the 6 CLA components - Collaborating, Learning, Adapting, Culture, Processes and Resources - and effective PSE. 

CLA ComponentWhat does this componenent look like for PSE?Tools and suggestions to inform and support PSE


Collaborating is the process of strategically identifying key internal and external stakeholders and deciding how best to work with them in order to add value, fill gaps, and avoid duplication while working towards a shared goal.

The PSE Policy calls for USAID to work hand-in-hand with the private sector in identifying issues of shared interest and co-creating solutions for greater scale and sustainability. The Policy emphasizes the importance of collaborating with the private sector at every stage of our work across sectors and country contexts. This can be done by identifying private sector actors that can help solve development challenges and engaging them early and often. It also means expanding the use of USAID’s approaches and tools that unlock the potential of the private sector. 

Follow these tips on how to engage stakeholders.

Think through which private sector partners to strategically engage using a collaboration-opportunity map, collaboration mapping, or net-mapping.

Consider taking a facilitative approach—one that focuses on indirect interventions at strategic points within a system—to collaborate with these key stakeholders.

See 6 ways to engage the private sector in achieving development outcomes in the PSE Policy.


Learning is the intentional process of generating, capturing, sharing, and analyzing information and knowledge from a wide range of sources to inform decisions and adapt programs to be more effective.

USAID commits to being accountable for results, measuring impact, managing adaptively, and developing robust Agency-wide learning plans (e.g. the Self-Reliance Learning Agenda and PSE evidence & learning plan). This means understanding the role and constraints of the private sector in addressing development issues.Critical to learning is building and acting on the evidence of what works and what does not in PSE. Learning for PSE ultimately helps fill knowledge gaps that can help answer these three priority questions.

Help set knowledge and information priorities using a learning agenda that contributes to the Agency PSE Evidence & Learning Plan. Here is a template.

Apply M&E for Learning to improve development outcomes.

Understand staff roles and responsibilities for monitoring, evaluation, and learning.

Review the five questions staff and partners should ask and assess every time they approach a development issue. 


Adapting is an intentional approach to reflecting on learning, and making decisions and iterative adjustments in response to new information and changes in context.

Integrating PSE throughout the Program Cycle enables USAID to adapt continuously to new evidence, opportunities, or circumstances in pursuit of key development results. You can manage programs adaptively to be responsive to market-driven opportunities. You may also create opportunities to pause and reflect on PSE practice and adapt based on lessons learned. 

Schedule pause and reflect moments to review new evidence, opportunities, or circumstances.

Use this tool to help you think through whether you need to adapt.

Hire adaptive employees that understand how to build relationships, be flexible, and respond to changing contexts.

See PSE practices that can be used across the Program Cycle.


Culture is defined as the norms—often unwritten and unspoken—that influence how individuals work and what they expect of themselves and their colleagues.

Successful implementation of the PSE Policy relies on building a culture in which all staff across functions embrace PSE. Not only that, but it is important to build trusting relationships and networks with the private sector and local actors. Culture also matters for being open to try and test new PSE approaches and taking balanced risks. The right culture enables you to act as Convener, Catalyst and Facilitator. 

Model USAID’s Leadership Philosophy, share it with your private sector partners, and ask how it connects to their own internal approaches.

Conduct a self-assessment with your team to see where you all fall on the culture spectrum using the CLA Maturity Tool.

Read tips on enhancing organizational culture that is supportive of collaboration, learning and adaptation.

Review and share the evidence on the importance of “learning leaders.”

Join the 1,800+ PSE Community of Practice to receive and share in monthly newsletters and quarterly calls.


Processes are the management systems and practices around knowledge management, institutional memory and decision-making that can enable or hinder the ability to operationalize this approach. 

The PSE Policy is the beginning of the process of institutionalizing private-sector engagement as a core tenet of USAID’s operating model. The processes in place to support knowledge management, capturing and transferring institutional memory and transparent decision-making can help facilitate this process. This can mean consistently examining the use of PSE and market-based approaches to issues across sectors and integrating PSE at every stage of the Program Cycle.

Know how to manage staff transitions. You can use the knowledge management sustainability tracker to help.

Be sure to capture staff’s tacit knowledge.

Learn how to untangle the decision-making process using RAPID decision-making.

Read these best practices for managing knowledge.

Join the PSE Knowledge Exchange (Knex) for peer to peer exchange on ideas, tools,  and crowdsourcing answers to questions.


Resources are inputs, including staff time and skills, Mission funds, and the integration of collaboration, learning and adaptation into implementing mechanisms.

Integrating more collaborative, learning and adaptive practices can help with this institutionalization, sustainability and success of PSE. In practice, applying the right resources to PSE means using the full breadth of USAID’s authorities and mechanisms to engage the private sector in achieving greater outcomes.

Build CLA into your design and implementation.

Incorporate PSE and CLA language in solicitations to ensure you can learn from and manage activities in an adaptive way to achieve better outcomes.

Be explicit about staff’s roles and responsibilities in implementing PSE.

Think beyond financial resources - how can you capitalize on existing resources and our convening power? Perhaps it means designing better meetings?

As you can see, CLA and PSE connect in many ways. Not only that, but there are numerous resources and examples of how these practices are mutually reinforcing in achieving greater development outcomes. 

With these frameworks and practices in mind as you go about your work, ask yourself questions like:

  • “Am I intentionally and strategically identifying and engaging private sector actors on the development issue I am trying to address?”
  • “Am I collaborating effectively with the private sector based on a relationship of mutual respect and trust?” 
  • “Am I being adaptive to private sector perspectives and creating opportunities for co-creation in how I’m approaching this development issue?” and/or
  • “Am I promoting a working culture that gives us the space to think innovatively about how to best engage the private sector?” 

You can explore the CLA Toolkit and PSE Pages to find resources that help answer these questions. You can reach out to those in the CLA Community of Practice and/or PSE Community of Practice to get a sense of how others are collaborating, learning, and adapting for better development outcomes. Ultimately, PSE and CLA share a similar goal of working towards better development outcomes and in action, these practices are often the same. The connections go on and on, but we’d love to see and hear how you make those yourselves!