We’re always collaborating. But how can we make it more effective?
This blog is the fourth in an ongoing series exploring the components of USAID's CLA Framework. Here is the first blog on organizational culture, the second on effective learning, and the third on the resources necessary for CLA to take hold.
I know – your eyes have already glazed over. It’s the component that people tend to skip over and the one that doesn’t make an official appearance in USAID’s Program Cycle, though it underlies how we all carry out our work. And when talking to others about collaboration, I get the sense that everyone is thinking, “well, yeah, duh.”
But despite what may seem common sense, we still find ourselves (and can hear our colleagues and partners telling us about) working in silos, not co-creating enough with those most affected by our development assistance, and avoiding those who may be critical to our efforts but difficult to work with.
What Does Effective Collaboration Throughout the Program Cycle Look Like?
I think one of the reasons we have this “well, duh” reaction to collaboration is that we collaborate all the time. We’re constantly in meetings, talking to colleagues, out in the field, or meeting with other organizations, so it doesn’t seem like something we need to necessarily do more of or improve upon. If anything, we may need to collaborate less to get some actual work done.
For this exact reason, within the CLA framework, our aim is not to get USAID missions to collaborate more often with more organizations or stakeholders. Rather, we encourage thinking more strategically about collaboration – who should we be collaborating with, why, and what form should collaboration take? Practically speaking, with limited time and resources, we cannot collaborate with all internal and external stakeholders. We must make choices about who is most essential and what form collaboration should take with each stakeholder. Therefore, effective collaboration happens when we systematically and intentionally:
- Identify internal and external stakeholders who could have the greatest impact on our planning and implementation
- Make decisions about what form collaboration should take with these stakeholders
- Collaborate effectively with identified stakeholders based on decisions reached and in an ongoing fashion.
How Can We Improve Collaboration Throughout the Program Cycle?
Be Strategic: Yes, I may be guilty of repeating myself, but the first step is to identify key stakeholders through some type of stakeholder analysis process, such as collaboration mapping or net mapping. All forms of collaboration can be valid—basic information exchange, consultation, coordination, partnership, and co-creation—depending on what we are trying to accomplish, who our stakeholders are, and their expectations and needs. These tools can help teams determine who is most critical to achieving objectives (or perhaps even determining what those objectives should be) and how to engage them along that collaboration spectrum.
Remember that internal collaboration also requires strategic thinking, even if we don't use a stakeholder analysis tool to the same level of formality we would for external stakeholders.
Reset Relationships between Donors and Implementing Partners: The nature of collaboration between donors and implementing partners is a crucial success factor for any activity or project. Intervention outcomes can improve greatly if that collaboration is founded on mutual respect—viewing one another as knowledge peers—and a willingness to jointly problem-solve. Evaluating the relationship between the donor and implementing partner and resetting that relationship, if necessary, are essential steps for improving how we collaborate and ultimately deliver assistance.
Facilitate, Rather than Create, Development: Equally important is the nature of collaboration with the communities, local governments, local organizations, and individuals we support through our interventions. This means taking a facilitative approach—one that focuses on indirect interventions at strategic points within a system—to collaborate with these key stakeholders. Such an approach is common to market systems/value chain activities; in others, using community-driven, participatory approaches throughout the Program Cycle will increase local ownership and sustainability of results.
Examples of Effective Collaboration in Action
There are no doubt countless examples of effective collaboration in action. Some of my personal favorites that emphasize a strategic approach that values quality over quantity include:
- USAID/Bangladesh – CLA to Develop the Bangladesh Dairy Sector: This CLA Case Competition entry tells the story of how seven activities formed the Bangladesh Livestock Coordination Group to better leverage their collective work and increase impact on the sector.
- USAID/Indonesia’s South-South Triangular Cooperation with the Government of Indonesia: This blog summarizes USAID/Indonesia’s collaboration with the host government to build Indonesia’s capacity in delivering development assistance to other countries. Other USAID missions, such as Brazil, India, Mexico, and South Africa, have also engaged host governments in this type of partnership.
- Effective Collaboration at the Strategy Level at USAID/Indonesia: This video captures USAID/Indonesia’s 2012–2013 Country Development Cooperation Strategy (CDCS) process using a facilitation approach, Open Space Technology, to enable both widespread and high-quality participation of local, regional, national stakeholders.
- USAID/Malawi's Experiment in Integration to Foster Collaboration and Improve Programmatic Decision-Making: This CLA Case Competition entry presents USAID/Malawi’s efforts to foster greater collaboration among partners by facilitating joint planning and leveraging resources to meet district development objectives.
We encourage you to share your tips for more effective collaboration with USAID and other partners, and examples of effective collaboration in action here in the comment section. What are some examples of successful (or unsuccessful) collaboration in your work?