Building in CLA to Your Activity Design: A Remedy for Working in Closing Spaces
USAID/Bangladesh signed a cooperative agreement, called Strengthening Political Landscape (SPL), with Democracy international (DI) with $10 Million in funding from the Department for International Development (DFID). The activity is a flagship five-year collaborative activity to promote tolerance in politics and mitigate conflict. USAID chose to build the CLA methodology into the design because of the fluid and complex political environment in Bangladesh and recognizing the need to adapt and adjust the interventions within the life of the activity. There was also strong support for using a collaborative and learning approach by the co-donor DFID and our implementing partner. The activity was designed to provide iterative feedback to continuously improved effectiveness and for documenting lessons learned. After two years the wisdom of building CLA into the activity design proved its worth when the political environment radically changed as a result of a fraudulent election. But even before the election, the political process team used the methodology after the first year to adapt the activity by adding digital tools such as a Violent Incident Monitoring System (VIMS) and Bangladata. VIMS systemically collected violence data and visually presented the data in illustrative maps, which helped DI to allocate resources and adjust its program focus and helped USAID and DIFD avoid duplication and overlap. Bangladata created a centralized and interactive hub of election-related data and maps that facilitated evidence-based decision-making to improve the electoral process. VIMS and Bangladata maps helped the DI to decide whether and where to deploy 7000 election observers. It also enhanced cooperation with other donors such as the State Department and IFES. Despite using CLA, the political process team did not expect the extent of fraud committed on Election Day. The CLA methodology was immediately used to guide an assessment of the post-election environment, and allowed donors and the implementer to significantly adapt activity.