Community-Led Development Harnesses the CLA Approach: The Case of Collaborative Research from 35 MERL Practitioners from 23 Organizations
One organization cannot make significant and lasting changes alone. Therefore, when The Movement for Community-led Development began a collaborative research project in 2019 to create a body of evidence about Community-led Development, using a collaborative, learning, and adaptive process was not a question of 'if', but 'how.'
Over the following two years, Monitoring, Evaluation, Research, and Learning (MERL) and development practitioners wrestled with questions around what Community-led Development is, current practices, evaluation methods, and potential impact. From this emerged a research report on Community-led Development practices based on 173 programs across 65 countries, and tools capturing the practice and quality of evaluations for CLD programs for public use and feedback. Thirty-five of the reports used in our final analysis came from USAID-funded programs. The research project then took on a life of its own—research arms were added to address gaps, and new organizations, individuals, academics, and funders expressed interest in joining the collaboration. The dedicated research team encompasses over thirty-five MERL and development professionals from 23 organizations.
Our research aimed at building the technical evidence base for Community-led Development’s impact and effectiveness, and was not intended to be purely academic. Research participants helped direct and shape it. This required unlearning how standard research is produced and who the researchers are. It meant relinquishing decision-making power to a group with varied opinions, skills, and experiences. It required reshaping evidence-building processes to allow for experimenting, piloting, failing, and rebounding—creating and reinforcing accountability mechanisms that ensure rigor while operating as a movement, not an organization or project.
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