Planning for CLA

On this page:   What is it?   |   How do I get started?   |   Important Tips

What is it?

Collaborating, Learning and Adapting (CLA) involves using strategic collaboration, continuous learning and adaptive management to improve organizational effectiveness and development results. Integrating CLA into development efforts takes planning. By developing a plan tailored to the context, Missions/OUs will determine the processes and resources that will enable them to collaborate with stakeholders to share knowledge and reduce duplication of effort, learn by drawing on evidence from a variety of sources and taking time to reflect on implementation, and apply learning by adapting, to name just a few examples.

It is important to prioritize the specific CLA approaches that fit the Mission’s context and needs, and to plan for them rather than expect them to occur on their own. Intentional planning helps ensure that CLA is systematic, adequately resourced, integrated into ongoing work, and acted on in ways that can maximize results. A plan for CLA can also serve as a management tool to help you articulate your priorities, allocate the necessary resources, and track your progress. For USAID Missions, the required CLA plan in the Performance Management Plan (PMP) focuses on collaborating, learning and adapting at the strategy level. Project and activity Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) plans address these issues for project and activity implementation.

How do I get started?

Understand current practices. An effective CLA plan is based on first understanding the organization’s current practices that support strategic collaboration, continuous learning and adaptive management—both the successes and challenges. Begin with a participatory stocktaking or self-assessment process to determine:

  • Collaborating: Are you collaborating with the stakeholders who are most critical to the desired development outcome? Is your collaboration based on the roles each stakeholder plays in the system, their influence related to the desired development outcome, areas of common interest, and your practical ability to work with each respective stakeholder?

  • Learning: What processes and activities are in place to surface and use tacit, experiential, and contextual knowledge? What sort of questions are you asking to fill knowledge gaps and make informed decisions? Have you identified your more relevant programmatic assumptions and have a plan on how you will address them? How are you using and learning from your monitoring data and evaluations? How are you learning from program implementation? How are you sharing what you have learned internally and with stakeholders?

  • Adapting: Are you regularly reflecting on your programs and the context in which you work, such as during portfolio reviews and stocktaking exercises? How are you using what you’ve learned from collaboration and learning activities to make decisions and adjustments? What processes and activities are in place to encourage adaptation?

  • Enabling Conditions: How does your organizational environment support your collaborating, learning and adapting efforts? What changes in the organizational culture or processes would make the biggest difference? Do staff and funding allocations support collaborating, learning and adapting? Does the program’s procurement-related documentation include CLA encouraging language?

The CLA Maturity tool was designed to facilitate this self-assessment process, as well as action planning around CLA priorities. Through a set of easy-to-use cards that guide a participatory conversation, the CLA Maturity Matrix tool offers examples of what CLA looks like at different stages of maturity. You can use the cards to facilitate a discussion to both assess current practice and plan for the future. The tool was developed based on experience and input from USAID staff and implementing partners, and has been tested extensively to ensure its relevance and utility for USAID programs. Alternatively, there are many other organizational learning, knowledge management, or organizational development assessment tools that can serve a similar purpose, or you can convene staff from a variety of offices around CLA.

CLA Maturity Tool cards for the Openness subcomponent of Culture

Determine priorities. Once you have a clear picture of your organization’s current CLA practices, consider possible activities and approaches you would like to institutionalize. Are there current good practices that should be cross-pollinated or scaled up? Are there particular areas that you’d like to address or improve? If so, how? Make sure to prioritize ideas generated based on feasibility, resources needs/availability, and especially the degree to which they support more effective program implementation. The CLA Maturity Matrix facilitation guidance also offers a process to help with this action planning step.

Define and document a plan. The participatory self-assessment and action planning processes you undertake when planning for CLA have a great deal of value in and of themselves, but it is also critical to capture your decisions about priorities, expectations, and resources in a concrete plan. This toolkit offers a CLA plan template that can help you document an initial roadmap for implementation. You may also want to think about how you will socialize decisions made during your process with other colleagues in your organization, new staff, and/or key stakeholders.

Review and update. You should revisit your CLA plan periodically. As the context changes, priorities evolve, and the strategy is implemented, projects and activities should be adapted accordingly. Regularly updating the Mission's CLA plan and the CLA content in the project and activity MEL plans helps ensure that CLA continues to be addressed systematically, resourced adequately, and integrated with ongoing work. You may find the CLA Maturity tool useful in these review and update processes.

Important Tips

  • Consolidate the team. Ultimately, integrating CLA principles and practices into development work is everyone’s responsibility. However, we have also learned that CLA is stronger in operating units that identify and empower CLA champions. Identify the CLA champions across your Mission—including in technical and supporting offices—and empower them to integrate CLA more fully into the Mission’s work.

  • Keep it simple. All of us work within constraints. Your planning process can be ‘right sized’ to help you define and prioritize CLA approaches that fit programmatic priorities as well as the amount of time you have available. If you use the CLA Maturity tool, there is no expectation that you will go through the entire tool in a single session. Similarly, rather than focusing at the outset on big changes, you may want to start small and build. In any case, it will be important to set realistic expectations for how and to what extent you will improve your CLA practice. For example, you might decide to incorporate moments for reflection or analysis into meetings you already hold.

  • Think holistically. Even when we start small, it is important to keep the bigger picture in mind. The CLA Framework brings structure and intentionality to a wide variety of tasks and approaches by helping you prioritize targeted areas for improvement. The CLA Framework can also help you identify existing strengths that can be built upon to improve your practice in another area. For instance, a team with strong “pause and reflect” practices but a weak understanding of the technical evidence base for part of their program might decide to use existing reflection opportunities to review and/or incorporate new evidence into programming discussions.

  • CLA is not a separate workstream. Practices and principles of collaborating, learning and adapting should be integrated into existing processes to strengthen our development work and improve aid effectiveness.

  • “Share out.” Other Missions, Bureaus, and organizations could find your experiences useful. Use existing communication channels such as ProgramNet, MyUSAID, and Learning Lab to share those experiences. This will also help to build the community of CLA practitioners across the Agency.