What Organizational Processes are Most Critical for Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting to Take Hold?
This blog is the fifth 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, the third on the resources necessary for CLA integration, the fourth on effective collaboration, and the sixth on adapting.
First, why do we focus on organizational processes as essential for collaborating, learning, adapting? I’ll answer that question with some more questions:
- Can you ever adapt effectively and efficiently if decision-making authorities, roles, and processes are unclear? I would argue no. It is critical to know who gets to decide when adapting is necessary and how those critical decisions—to start, stop, continue, or modify an approach—get made, executed, and shared.
- Will the right people learn the right things at the right time if institutional memory systems and processes are inadequate? Without these processes in place, we may be doomed to repeat past mistakes or fail to apply good practices simply because we don't know what has already happened.
- And if knowledge is hoarded rather than shared, how will we get the information we need to make informed decisions? The processes behind creating, capturing, sharing, and applying knowledge (i.e., the knowledge cycle) are critical to making sound development decisions, and our knowledge sources dictate whose voice matters when making those decisions.
What Do Effective Organizational Processes for CLA Look Like?
USAID missions and implementing partners have effective organizational processes for CLA when they do the following things consistently and systematically.
- Implement decision-making processes that are transparent and clear to staff and external stakeholders
- Assign authority at the appropriate levels to enable greater adaptability
- Inform and update staff and external stakeholders about decisions taken and the rationale for those decisions.
--> Effective Decision-Making in Action: This CLA Case Competition entry describes how Mercy Corps Ethiopia’s PRIME activity introduced a “concept note” system and process to support adaptive management and efficient decision-making between frontline staff and management.
- Use knowledge management platforms and systems to document and access up-to-date information and knowledge in a timely manner
- Implement processes that help transfer mission knowledge, understanding of the local context, and key relationships between outgoing/current and incoming staff
- Provide opportunities for local staff to contribute to institutional memory and personnel onboarding and transition processes (in addition to accessing their extensive technical and local knowledge)
Knowledge Cycle and Sources
- Source relevant technical, contextual, and experiential knowledge from key stakeholders
- Review whether documented knowledge requires further analysis or distillation to inform decisions
- Share knowledge in user-friendly formats via appropriate communication channels and knowledge management platforms inside and outside USAID to influence broad development agendas
How Can We Improve Organizational Processes to Support CLA Integration?
Assess and Expand Current Knowledge Sources: What forms of knowledge are you accessing? Think about what knowledge you need to better inform your decisions, and determine whether current indicators and quantitative data provide sufficient information. If not, what qualitative data and experiential knowledge would be most helpful to complement existing data, and how can you access that knowledge? Who, specifically, has experiential knowledge that would be most helpful? Engage community stakeholders and local staff who are most familiar with the local context.
Provide Knowledge in User-Friendly Formats for Key Decision-Makers: Large reports often sit unread on shelves, in email inboxes, or online. To avoid this, consider how knowledge can be shared in user-friendly formats that are more likely to be opened, read, and internalized, such as two-page briefs, short reports, infographics (using data visualization techniques), or videos. This is especially important when thinking about who the decision-makers are and how they like to receive information. Thinking about translation is also critical - are your local stakeholders even able to read your latest evaluations and assessments?
Prioritize Knowledge Transfer During Staff Onboarding and Transitions: By being intentional about knowledge transfer during staff onboarding and transition processes, you can significantly reduce the time it takes to get someone "up to speed." Processes that capture tacit knowledge, such as handovers and exit interviews, are especially important and feed critical information to new staff.
Clarify Decision-Making Processes and Authority Levels: We have all faced a lack of clarity in decision-making; this short USAID case study discusses challenges that arise with shared decision-making processes among a diverse group of stakeholders. So how can we improve in this area? It’s not going to be easy—decision-making processes within teams and organizations can often be a political minefield. But we have to start somewhere and given the sensitivities, taking an appreciative approach may be in order. Consider when decision-making has gone smoothly and empowered teams to adapt and improve programming. What enabled that to happen? How can that approach be replicated?
What processes does your team or organization have in place to support CLA integration? Which are most critical to your success as an organization? Tell us in the comments below!