Learning (in the) Lab: Building a Model for Cross-bureau Collaboration and Adaptation
Established in 2014, the U.S. Global Development Lab (“the Lab”) serves as an innovation hub within the U.S. Agency for International Development, helping the Agency harness advances in science, technology, innovation, and partnerships (STIP) that promise to accelerate development impact. The Lab’s two-part mission is to produce breakthrough development innovations and accelerate the transformation of the development enterprise. In support of this mission, the Lab generates, captures, shares, and uses evidence that helps us to understand what works, for whom, and under what circumstances. By 2017, while the Lab had made marked progress in building the technical evidence base around STIP, no bureau-wide strategy or operational processes existed for coordinating these commitments. Internal collaboration and knowledge management remained largely siloed within Centers, with adaptations relegated to program or activity levels.
The Lab’s Office of Evaluation and Impact Assessment (EIA) took the lead in facilitating a solution, embarking on a CLA-driven process to develop and implement a cross-bureau learning agenda - the Lab Evaluation, Research, and Learning (ERL) Plan. Both a process and series of products, the ERL Plan is organized around five priority learning questions, and 1) prioritizes, coordinates, and resources cross-bureau ERL activities aligned with the Lab strategy, 2) centrally documents evidence relevant to STIP and the Lab, and 3) translates this evidence for use informing Lab decision-making and action. The ERL Plan has not only facilitated getting evidence into action, but also improved CLA integration and organizational effectiveness in the Lab, including stronger internal collaboration, broader application of adaptive management, and more robust engagement around continuous learning and improvement.