Testing Theory of Change for USAID in Niger Using "Structured Experiential Learning"
In mid-2019, USAID/Senegal awarded FSVC a cooperative agreement to implement the "SHIGA" activity with the goal, "civil society more effectively engage the government while key government institutions are more effective in their mandate and responsive to citizen needs." In its proposal, FSVC emphasized CLA approaches and tools, including "emergent" design precepts to support adaptive management. The approach included the use of "Structured Experiential Learning" ("MeE") which supports CLA and emergent design through trials of design alternatives to test what works best and explain why. FSVC's use of a form of MeE in Niger appears to be among the first experiential applications on a USAID project.
Under SHIGA's Objective 1, civil society organizations (CSOs) are strengthened through a year-long incubation process involving 10 to 12 CSOs per cohort. The final phase of the process is a six-month small grants program (SGP). Selected CSOs receive funding to develop and implement a project to put into practice what they learned during the first half of the incubation. An implicit theory of change (ToC) held at the outset was that the SGP would be more successful if CSOs worked in coalitions of 2 to 3 members, the effort thus benefiting from collective action.
Several more seasoned CSOs in cohort 1 however expressed doubt about the value of such collaboration, based on their experience. The FSVC SHIGA team thus decided to utilize MeE to test/validate the ToC. The main design variable and subject of the test was the use, or not, of collective action. Results found that collective action is not necessarily more effective, but rather that success appears dependent on how coalitions are created, and degree and type of communication and collaboration between members during implementation. While subsequent incubation cohorts all required coalition-based SGP work, the FSVC SHIGA team has adapted the method of coalition formulation to reflect the results of the experiment.
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