How Can CLA Help on the Journey to Self-Reliance? An Interview with the HRH2030 Program

Nov 20, 2019 by Maria Castro Comments (0)

We asked three questions to Juan Sebastián Barco and Katy Gorentz from the USAID Human Resources for Health in 2030 (HRH2030) program after their case study was named a winner in the 2019 USAID CLA Case Competition. During our conversation, they took a deeper dive on how their collaborative, evidence-driven work with the Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF) is contributing to Colombia’s journey to self-reliance and how their approach is already replicated in other countries where HRH2030 works.

Here is what they had to say:

Can you give an example of instances when HRH2030 used CLA to help ICBF collaborate with other actors to improve practices and processes used for referral and follow-up processes in cases of child abuse? 

Juan Sebastián: HRH2030 is supporting the government’s cross-institutional social and health framework Ni Uno Mas, or Not One More, and is also collaborating with ICBF, the National Learning Service (SENA), and the Ministry of Health (when relevant) to develop a training platform and curricula for social and health workers to ensure adherence with childcare protocols and implement better case management practices with children and families. In addition, we are supporting institutional coordination efforts by developing process maps, clarifying referral processes, and establishing better communication processes with local communities that align with Ni Uno Mas to reduce the high child mortality rates associated with all types of violence. The goal of this framework is to improve collaboration among institutional stakeholders, improve social and health sector capacities with training in basic and technical skills, and generate a link with rural communities, including indigenous populations and communities formerly affected by prolonged conflict. Colombia’s first lady, ICBF, the Ministry of Health, the private sector, and local communities worked together to establish Ni Uno Mas

Katy: The process of collaborating with ICBF  to reflect on their practices and analyze the results allowed us to work with a variety of ICBF stakeholders, from national level officials to social workers in municipality-level protection teams, to prioritize the steps that are most tangible to make improvements to the quality of the services offered to children and families. To achieve this, we used the case management assessment tool to help the protection teams visualize what optimized case management would look like if it were running at the highest quality, reflect on the status of their own case management practices, and triage and prioritize how case management can be improved to reflect the lessons learned from the assessment. From there, we’ve supported ICBF’s work with SENA to see that these ideas are reflected in social work trainings. 

How is an evidence-based approach helping ICBF and how is it taking into account sustainability, for when they are no longer working with HRH2030? How is using this approach contributing to their journey to self-reliance? 

Juan Sebastián Barco: ICBF needs better tools and evidence to make decisions, and the government of Colombia wants evidence-based actions, big data, and risk prediction. Our models are an important step in this direction. We have contributed to ICBF’s push to align with the government’s priorities by incorporating assessments that shed light on the operational and technical obstacles. The assessments also increase ICBF’s agency and stake in the process as well as its leadership. 

Katy: The HRH2030 team heavily involved ICBF from the beginning. ICBF saw the value of the information we gathered through the assessments, and they valued transparency throughout the process. In practice, collaborating helped them get valuable information that they could use right away, as they were involved in the process and thus able to analyze actual results throughout. ICBF was able to latch onto HRH2030’s approach because they saw real value every step of the way, seeing the information they needed, the work that went into it, and what data they could get out of it. As a result, they were able to see that collaborating at multiple levels could get them valuable information to inform decision-making and strategic planning. ICBF was also involved in the design, which helped them understand that this was something tangible that they could use in the future – they’re already planning to expand use of these approaches to other regions of Colombia. 

The Colombia activity is one country activity of the global HRH2030 program. Are any of the tools you used in Colombia being used in other countries with other organizations interested in measuring their development? 

Juan Sebastián: Katy can answer this question. 

Katy: HRH2030 Capacity for Malaria Building (CBM) is working on organizational maturity, organization processes, planning, and strategic thinking with National Malaria Control Programs (NMCP) in highly-endemic malaria countries. CBM uses a maturity model assessment to understand and improve organizational process performance, which really resonated with our work with ICBF. So, we adapted the maturity model approach to ICBF’s needs based on our experience with CBM. In addition, the relational coordination assessment was something that came from the Colombia activity and went to over to CBM. We used the relational coordination assessment in Colombia, which builds a culture of effective internal collaboration, to understand communication strengths and breakdowns within ICBF at the national level. Country representatives and the CBM activity team in Chad expressed interest, which led them to incorporate this approach into their baseline assessment of NMCP capacity. CBM is now incorporating that tool for all CBM activities where they are conducting organizational capacity assessments. It is an especially useful tool because it helps gather evidence for planning on internal coordination and optimization, which is usually a hard concept to quantify.

Adapting to the changing landscape of social and health workforces in Colombia requires collaboration across sectors and rapidly assessing what works. Collaborating, learning and adapting has been pivotal to HRH2030’s partnership with ICBF and will continue to be a crucial framework as the country’s capacity to provide protective services to children and adolescents is challenged by the influx of migrants from Venezuela; which is testing the country’s capacity on the journey to self-reliance.

Juan Sebastián Barco is the director for the HRH2030 Colombia activity, and Katy Gorentz is the monitoring and evaluation manager for HRH2030. HRH2030 is a global project funded by USAID and implemented by Chemonics and a consortium of partners; the Colombia activity is supported by the American International Health Alliance.


How CLA Helped Increase Self-Reliance in Zambia

Nov 16, 2019 by Laura Ahearn Comments (0)

CLTS Zambia

This blog post is a summary of a study entitled, “Deep Dive of Akros Community-Led Sanitation Program in Zambia.”

How can people be encouraged to take charge of their community’s sanitation needs and become self-reliant in latrine construction and use? Open defecation, which can lead to serious infectious diseases across the population and to stunting or even death in children, continues to be a problem in many countries. One approach to helping communities become Open Defecation Free (ODF) is Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), which eschews the traditional subsidy approach in favor of building community self-reliance by motivating local residents to handle their own sanitation needs. In Zambia, the Ministry of Local Government and Housing (MLGH) embraced the CLTS approach in its Zambian Sanitation and Health Program (ZSHP) and set out to implement CLTS across the country’s rural districts with support from UNICEF and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). Along with Akros, a Lusaka-based implementer, ZSHP collaborated, learned, and adapted its approach to CLTS, ultimately making it more successful at ending open defecation and increasing self-reliance.

ZSHP’s CLTS approach was centered on training Community Champions to facilitate “triggerings,” which were two- to three-hour processes that included a “walk of shame” around the village to identify the locations where open defecation occurred. The village residents were encouraged to view open defecation not as an individual choice but instead as a problem that had serious health implications for all community members. Following the triggering, communities would usually decide to create a Sanitation Action Group, build their own latrines, set up hand-washing stations, and improve their overall waste management. No subsidies were provided for latrine construction under the CLTS approach, as it was designed to foster a sense of ownership and self-reliance among community members.

Akros, a Lusaka-based organization, came on as an implementer of ZSHP in 2014. To complement the CLTS approach, Akros developed a Mobile-to-Web (M2W) application that facilitated real-time monitoring of each community’s progress, speeding up the feedback loops between community members and government officials. After experiencing initial success, however, Akros realized that the improvement they had seen at first was not continuing. Akros decided to start collaborating with traditional leaders more intentionally and effectively, and once they did so, their success rates increased remarkably. 

While Akros employees did not explicitly set out to incorporate collaborating, learning, and adapting (CLA) into their programming, the M2W component of the CLTS program in Zambia nevertheless integrated the principles of CLA into its programming, leveraging collaboration among community members, government officials, and traditional leaders to yield information about the sanitation status of each community, which in turn enabled Community Champions and traditional leaders to provide additional resources and attention to areas advancing more slowly, resulting in faster and more durable progress to ODF status in the treatment communities.

The case analysis deep dive on how Akros and ZSHP incorporated CLA into their work is part of an effort to examine the evidence base for CLA, conducted by USAID LEARN in support of USAID’s Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning. It is the second of two CLA case analysis deep dives, the first one focusing on Global Communities’ response efforts to the Ebola outbreak in Liberia. Both of these studies adapted methods from contribution analysis, contribution tracing, and outcome harvesting to analyze corroborating evidence and alternative explanations of the outcomes.

Zambia’s ZSHP integrated CLA in order to achieve sustainable sanitation outcomes in rural districts across the country in the following ways:

COLLABORATING: In collaboration with UNICEF and the Government of Zambia under the CLTS program, Akros worked closely with community members, especially Community Champions and Sanitation Action Groups, encouraging them to take on the responsibility of making their community ODF without any outside funds for latrines or hand-washing stations. Akros improved the efficacy of this approach by working closely with traditional leaders, government officials, schools, researchers, the media, and other community groups. 

LEARNING: In order to facilitate continuous learning about progress on the ground, Akros developed an M2W application that allowed for real-time monitoring and quick feedback loops. Akros also learned from a number of sources, including two evaluations, studies conducted by researchers (both internal and external to Akros), and staff members’ day-to-day experience.

ADAPTING: Akros incorporated innovative real-time monitoring into the CLTS program using its M2W app when data indicated a need for quicker and more accurate feedback loops. Akros also designed the “Chief App” to facilitate better utilization of the data by traditional leaders, who accessed the information using tablets and a simplified dashboard designed especially for them. Using the M2W data to track the performance of their headmen/women’s villages, the chiefs/chieftainesses adjusted their visits to villages, thereby using their scarce fuel more efficiently. 

So, what can we conclude from this? The case analysis deep dive yields a number of insights into the specific contributions CLA made to the effort and the results. It suggests that strategic collaborations with government officials, traditional leaders, and community members led to greater feelings of local ownership, self-reliance, and in many cases, effective behavior change. Enabled by donor flexibility, and strengthened by a broad range of leadership support and participation, CLA approaches in this case incorporated innovative digital monitoring using the M2W app that led to better quality data and speedier feedback loops. Chiefs/chieftainesses and headmen/women were also involved in ways that supported development outcomes, thereby demonstrating how traditional leaders can be constructive agents of change rather than anachronistic obstacles to development.

Selected Citations:

Boston University’s Center for Global Health and Development and Zambia Center for Applied Health Research. (2017) Impact Evaluation of the Sanitation and Hygiene Program in Zambia: Final Report.

Kar, K. and Chambers, R. (2018). Handbook on Community-Led Total Sanitation.

Yeboah-Antwi, K., et al. (2019). Improving Sanitation and Hygiene through Community-Led Total Sanitation: The Zambian Experience. The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (100)4: 1005–1012.

Zambia Ministry of Local Government, Housing, Early Education, and Environmental Protection and UNICEF. (2011) Community Led Total Sanitation: An Evaluation of Experiences and Approaches to Date.

Where to Go for Research Evidence

Nov 13, 2019 by Lily Sweikert Comments (0)

Are you looking for research evidence to inform your development programming? You’re in luck. The Development Experience Clearinghouse (DEC), a free, publicly available, and searchable database, recently added a list of more than 15,700 USAID-funded and USAID-affiliated peer-reviewed research publications to its collection.

Maybe you work in global health and are interested in reading about USAID-supported research on the transmission of HIV, malaria, or tuberculosis. Or, perhaps you’re addressing wildlife trafficking and you want to learn about methods to engage the local community. Simply click the link above and type in your search terms. You could also search by country or region to see the research evidence produced through USAID support.

USAID is committed to increasing public access and usability of USAID-funded data and research evidence, in compliance with the Foundations of Evidence-based Policymaking Act and the Public Access Plan.

Now, the general public can more easily find USAID-funded research evidence to draw on to inform future development policies and programming. The addition of this collection to the DEC is an example of the Agency’s commitment to increasing public access and usability of USAID-funded data and research.

We are thrilled to be able to provide improved access to these USAID-supported research publications. The successful publication of these journal articles is a testament to the variety and quality of USAID-supported research, including locally-generated research, supporting many countries’ journeys to self-reliance.

Embracing Uncertainty: The Potential for 'Mindful' Development

Oct 27, 2019 by Guy Sharrock, Catholic Relief Services Comments (0)

There is a growing awareness that many aspects of economic and social development are complex, unpredictable, and ultimately uncontrollable. Governments, non-governmental organizations, and international agencies have realized the need for a change in emphasis; a paradigm shift is taking place away from predominantly linear and reductionist models of change to approaches that signal a recognition of the indeterminate, dynamic and interconnected nature of social behavior.

Over the last few years many international NGOs have been adopting a more adaptive approach to project management often with reference to USAID’s ‘Collaborating, Learning and Adapting’ (CLA) framework and model. In the case of Catholic Relief Services this work builds on earlier and not unrelated capacity strengthening interventions – still ongoing – in which projects are encouraged to embed ‘evaluative thinking’ (ET) (Buckley et al., 2015) into their modus operandi.

Ellen Langer, in her excellent book The Power of Mindful Learning (Langer, 1997) introduces the notion of ‘mindfulness’. This concept, underpinned by many years of research, can be understood as being alert to novelty – intentionally “seeking surprise” (Guijt, 2008) – introducing in a helpful manner a sense of uncertainty to our thinking and thereby establishing a space for ‘psychologically safe’ learning (Edmondson, 2008) and an openness to multiple perspectives. This seems to me very applicable to the various strands of CLA and ET work in which I’ve been recently engaged; Langer’s arguments for mindful learning seem as applicable to international development as they are to her own sector of research interest, education. To coin the language of Lederach (2007), Langer seems to “demystify” the notion of mindfulness whilst at the same time offering us the chance to “remystify” the practice of development work that seeks to change behavior and support shifts in social norms. This is both essential and overdue for development interventions occurring in complex settings.

A mindful approach to development would seek to encourage greater awareness in the present of how different people on the receiving end of aid adapt (or not) their behavior in response to project interventions; in short, a willingness to go beyond our initial assumptions through a mindful acceptance that data bring not certainty but ambiguity. According to Langer, “in a mindful state, we implicitly recognize that no one perspective optimally explains a situation…we do not seek to select the one response that corresponds to the situation, but we recognize that there is more than one perspective on the information given and we choose from among these.” (op. cit..: 108). Mindful development encourages a learning climate in which uncertainty is embraced and stakeholders intentionally surface and value novelty, difference, context, and perspective to generate nuanced understandings of the outcome of project interventions. Uncertainty is the starting point for addressing complex challenges and a willingness to “spend more time not knowing” (Margaret Wheatley, quoted in Kania and Kramer, 2013) before deciding on course corrections if needed. As Kania and Kramer (ibid.: 7) remark, “Collective impact success favors those who embrace the uncertainty of the journey, even as they remain clear-eyed about their destination.”


Buckley, J., Archibald, T., Hargraves, M. and W.M. Trochim. (2015). ‘Defining and Teaching Evaluative Thinking: Insights from Research on Critical Thinking’. American Journal of Evaluation, pp. 1-14.

Edmondson, A. (2014). Building a Psychologically Safe Workplace. Retrieved from:

Guijt, I. (2008). Seeking Surprise: Rethinking Monitoring for Collective Learning in Rural Resource Management. Published PhD thesis, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands.

Kania, J. and M. Kramer. (2013) ‘Embracing Emergence: How Collective Impact Addresses Complexity’. Stanford Social Innovation Review. Stanford University, CA.

Langer, Ellen J. (1997). The Power of Mindful Learning. Perseus Books, Cambridge, MA.

Lederach, J.P., Neufeldt, R. and H. Culbertson. (2007). Reflective Peacebuilding. A Planning, Monitoring and Learning Toolkit. Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame, South Bend, IN, and Catholic Relief Services, Baltimore, MD.

Filed Under: Working Smarter

Welcome to the new USAID Learning Lab!

Oct 7, 2019 by Ian Lathrop Comments (0)

The Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning at USAID is pleased to announce the launch of the redesigned USAID Learning Lab. With more than 8,500 members, USAID Learning Lab is USAID’s online platform for collaborating, learning, and adapting (CLA) tools, resources, and examples. The site’s new look and organizing structure was developed with user input to improve ease of use and showcase critical Program Cycle resources. The site now has a modern look and feel with more color and visual elements.

What’s New

The site’s new look includes:

  • Content organized around components of the CLA Framework, making it easier for you to search for tools, resources, and examples of CLA in practice
  • An updated library of CLA case studies
  • A new menu and pages for The Program Cycle, which is USAID’s operational model for planning, implementing, assessing, and adapting development programming
  • Easier-to-find toolkits about monitoring, evaluation, and CLA
  • The Learning Lab Blog, videos, and podcast episodes.

Ways to Engage

USAID Learning Lab is your go-to spot for information on integrating CLA approaches throughout the USAID Program Cycle and provides opportunities to:

  • Receive email updates about the latest in adaptive management and organizational learning tips, tools, and techniques.
  • Contribute a blog post showcasing what you and how you are learning.
  • Access and understand guidance surrounding the USAID Program Cycle, including monitoring, evaluation, and CLA approaches.
  • Explore the CLA Case Library to read practical examples of CLA in action

New tools, resources, and blogs are added to the site on a regular basis. Be sure to check back often for the latest on CLA at USAID.

Learn More

Find out what else you can do here

The Winners of the 2019 Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting Case Competition are…

Sep 30, 2019 by Jen Romba Comments (0)

USAID’s Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning and the LEARN contract are happy to sponsor the fifth-annual Collaborating, Learning and Adapting (CLA) Case Competition. The entry period was held March 4th - April 12, 2019 and this year, we received 97 case studies. Thank you, submitters!

The objectives of the CLA Case Competition are to:

  • Capture real-life case studies of USAID staff and implementing partners using a CLA approach for organizational learning and better development outcomes;
  • Identify enablers and barriers to CLA integration; and
  • Contribute to the evidence base for CLA

In addition, the CLA Case Competition is an annual opportunity to check in on what’s happening with CLA integration throughout USAID’s programs. The increasing number of submissions over the past five years (57 in 2015, 63 in 2016, 100 in 2017, 127 in 2018, 97 in 2019) indicates that CLA practices (or, at least, awareness of the competition), is rising.

Here are some key takeaways from an analysis of this year’s cases:

  • We added a new question to the submission form about whether the highlighted CLA approach(es) contribute to a country’s Journey to Self-Reliance. This question was not given a score when determining winners in the competition, but it has helped to shape the collective understanding about how CLA contributes to self-reliance. We’ll be publishing a blog with more information and great examples soon!
  • In 2019, we continued to encourage USAID Missions/Operating Units and implementing partners to submit cases together. And you did! This year we received 19 cases from joint submitters.

    This graphic shows the breakdown of the organizations that submitted cases this year.


  • We continue to see a good concentration of CLA case examples from Africa, but we also received a number of cases from other regions, including Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), as well as a number from the Middle East.

Pie chart with regional breakdown

So, without further ado, here are the winners of the 2019 CLA Case Competition!

USAID/Honduras in partnership with Banyan Global submitted “Employing Futures - CLA to Strengthen Youth Workforce Development in Honduras,” which was a favorite amongst judges. The Empleando Futuros project in Honduras was designed to increase employment among targeted at-risk youth. A critical pause and reflect moment helped the project staff recognize the limitations of their initial training model and revisit their assumptions. Because CLA was included from the outset, the staff were able to adapt their programming to better meet the needs of their local partners and to build the capacity of local systems. As a result of the adaptation, Empleando Futuros has seen a decreased dropout rate for participants and reduced risk factors for youth entering the workforce. Congratulations to authors Olvan Lopez, Tanya Hurst, and Ana Rubi!

The Luke Commission (TLC) uses CLA to Manage Rapid Growth in Eswatini,” is a clear example of a local organization focusing on the enabling conditions needed to preserve its organizational culture and enhance development results. TLC is a local, faith-based NGO based in Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) that provides comprehensive, integrated medical care to under-served populations at a central facility and through mobile hospitals. During a period of enormous organizational growth--including doubling their staff in twelve months--TLC was concerned about maintaining its organizational culture, which focused on providing quality and compassionate care to clients. The team worked to intentionally address the mental and emotional trauma of HIV and poverty among their own staff and utilized pause and reflect opportunities and a systemic approach to institutional memory as they expanded their services and increased the number of rural patients treated in Eswatini. Congratulations to author Echo VanderWal!

In Save the Children’s case, “Promoting Sustainability & Self-Reliance: Use of Group Capacity Assessment Data in Nepal,” the Sabal program, funded by the USAID Office of Food for Peace, used CLA approaches to support its work on improving food security and resilience and building the self-reliance of community groups. Prompted to adapt by changes in the context and in the program’s budget, Sabal staff used monitoring and other data to develop tailored interventions for local community groups. More mature organizations, for example, were assisted in registering with the local government and were linked with local resources and leaders. These collaborations were a success--during 2018, forty-one municipalities allocated over $9 million of their own budgets to support Sabal-promoted activities and technologies. Congratulations to authors S. Sharma, N. Ranaivoarivelo, K. Arnold, and T. Dhungana!

Chemonics submitted “Strengthening Colombia’s Social Service Workforce through Collaboration and Learning,” featuring the USAID Human Resources for Health 2030 (HRH2030) Program in Colombia. HRH2030 used CLA approaches in its work with the Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF) to provide violence prevention and protection services to children and families. HRH2030 staff worked collaboratively with ICBF in designing interventions based on technical evidence. This resulted in stronger  relationships between the HRH2030 and ICBF, enabling them to strengthen organizational processes and fine-tune case management approaches, so that the ICBF can realize greater capacity and better outcomes for Colombian children, adolescents, and families. Congratulations to authors J. Barco, H. Maje, M. Contreras, K. Gorentz!

In CARE’s case, “Failing Forward: How CARE is focusing on what goes wrong to improve impact”, the author describes an organization-wide initiative to showcase ideas that didn’t work in order to spend more time implementing ideas that do! Failing Forward combines a number of light-touch approaches, like podcasts, coffee conversations, and social media posts, with other, broader efforts like documenting failures, instituting pre-mortems and revamping Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning training materials. These intentional and systematic opportunities to pause and reflect on past experiences offer learning opportunities for others within the organization. While it is too early to see a direct development impact from this initiative, the expectation is that projects will get more efficient and deliver better results faster because they are able to apply lessons from elsewhere and adapt to challenges faster. Congratulations to author Emily Janoch; this is the fourth time CARE has submitted a winning case!

KHPT, a nonprofit organization in Southern India, submitted a case titled “Using CLA towards an innovative approach to preventing diagnostic delay for TB patients,” which highlights how regular knowledge sharing and learning from monitoring data can improve program outcomes and support self-reliance. In this case, KHPT was working to reduce the risk of tuberculosis (TB) transmission by speeding up diagnosis, which could take months in areas without diagnostic facilities. The program worked with local government to develop a collection and transportation system for TB tests. Field agents were empowered to solve the implementation challenges they faced, and to share and learn from others, through a WhatsApp group and more formal pause and reflect opportunities. As a result, within the first nine months of activity implementation, thousands of patients received TB diagnoses and could begin treatment. Congratulations to author Vrinda Manocha!

USAID’s Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) wrote a case highlighting a regional peer network for Mission-based Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning (MEL) Specialists. Their case, “LAC MEL Specialists Use Peer Network to Improve Quality and Use of Evidence” showcases the LAC MEL Peer Network, which was developed to promote knowledge sharing around MEL approaches and tools for field-based staff. The network empowers MEL specialists in the region and expects to contribute to improved quality and use of evidence for programs in LAC. Congratulations to authors Todd Anderson and Amy Prevatt!

USAID/Cambodia is recognized for ingenuity for their case, “CLA in USAID/Cambodia Site Visit Reporting and Utilization,” which describes taking the otherwise routine process of writing site visit reports and making them a useful learning experience for Mission staff. Their goal in updating the site visit planning and reporting process was grounded in CLA concepts such as strategic collaboration, continuous learning and improvement, and adaptive management. The team’s aim was to strengthen how the Mission plans, documents, and analyzes site visits. The new site visit reporting approach has contributed to more comprehensive and systematic data collection about the Mission’s activities and better evidence and knowledge about the performance of the Mission’s portfolio. Congratulations to authors Peoulida Ros, Sopheak Hoeun, and Carlos Lamadrid!

The USAID Regional Health Integration to Enhance Services in Eastern Uganda (RHITES-E) activity, implemented by IntraHealth International, supports the government of Uganda to expand access to high quality health services. Their case, “How collaborative efforts led to better HIV services and outcomes in Eastern Uganda,” highlights their use of strategic collaboration across multiple stakeholder groups to increase HIV testing and care and treatment for those who test positive. RHITES-E developed a dashboard and used performance data to learn which approaches were working and to adapt accordingly. As a result, the program was able to build the capacity of local organizations to test and treat more patients in Eastern Uganda. Congratulations to author Carol Karutu!

In Kenya, RTI’s K-YES project highlighted their use of CLA to strengthen the capacity of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) institutions. “Strengthening Kenya's TVET capacity through learning and adaptation” describes how program staff worked collaboratively with an initial cohort of partner TVET institutions to assess their strengths and challenges and develop a monitoring and evaluation system to be responsive to organizational changes. The learning from these efforts was applied to work with additional institutions in future phases. K-YES has observed significant outcomes as a result, including an improvement of TVET institutions’ performance scores by an average of 39%. Congratulations to authors Ehud Gachugu and Sarah Mattingly!

These winning cases will be featured here on USAID Learning Lab in the coming months, and ultimately become a part of the CLA case database--providing inspiration and direction to USAID staff and partners interested in achieving better organizational and development outcomes.

Choosing just ten winners from 97 submissions was challenging, especially because the cases get stronger each year. The judges’ consolation is that we also recognize an additional 10 cases as finalists. Click here to see the finalists from this year, as well as cases from previous years. The rest of the top 75% of cases submitted this year will also be posted to this CLA Case Study collection in the coming months. Congratulations once more to our winners!

A Sense of Design: Creating Multi-Sensory Experiences with Data

Sep 10, 2019 by Katherine Haugh Comments (0)

Imagine you are watching a play, except, instead of sitting in a normal theater seat, you find yourself as part of the scenery. There are actors behind you, above you, next to you. You are surrounded by bright lights, rough textures, and woodsy aromas. You are not simply watching a performance; you are a part of it.

This is the ethos behind Sleep No More, a play that launched the immersive theatre trend in 2011. The idea behind the play is to take the audience through an experience that they are actively involved in. Participants in the play see, smell, hear, and feel the performance; they embody the experience through sensory immersion.

The theory behind this format is that the more immersive the performance is, the more resonant it will be. A growing body of research shows that the more sensory our experiences are, the more memorable they are. According to studies on this topic, involving our full range of senses in experiences not only makes them more accessible for a wider range of people, but also makes them more memorable. That’s because, according to some researchers, there is a connection between sensory experiences and emotion on the one hand and between emotion and motivation to act on the other. In short, engaging all our senses can move us more quickly and fully to action.

Hearing about Sleep No More made me wonder: would involve more of our senses in the sharing of information make the information more resonant with users? What would happen if we made sharing information more experiential for participants? In the field of international development, we are learning the power of data visualization in creating reports; according to the handful of studies I have read, it may be even more powerful to engage other senses as well.

Here are some ideas I have about what this could look (smell, sound, and feel) like in practice:

  1. Build upon data visualization. To increase the sensory experience of information, we could involve other senses in addition to sight. For example, an emerging data trend, called data sonification, translates data into sound values. Numbers are turned into scales of pitch, volume, and rhythm. Check out this project that used data sonification to literally hear income inequality and global movement of refugees.
  2. Create a physical experience. Even though we are not always in person with our audiences, we could create opportunities for participants to physically experience data and information. See, for example, National Geographic’s report on malnutrition in children that includes a cut out wristband with a measure of a malnourished child’s arm.
  3. Engage emotions. Our emotions play a big role in how we interpret data. That’s because, according to some studies, there is a strong link between emotion and decision-making. For example, the SeeingData project found that viewers are more likely to learn from a data visualization if they had a pleasant emotional experience viewing it. Instead of removing emotions from the process, we could actively integrate them into how we design the experience participants go through when they engage with data.

What your thoughts about integrating all of our senses into the sharing of data in our field? How have you helped your audience experience data? What has been the result? Leave your comments below.

CLA Through Theater: Engaging Ukraine’s Civil Society Through a Dramaturgical Sociological Approach

Sep 4, 2019 by Christopher Russell and Lauren Serpe Comments (0)

This blog was written by Christopher Russell (Strategy Policy Analyst, Pact Ukraine) and Lauren Serpe (Deputy Technical Director, Global Results and Measurement, Pact).

Collaborating, learning, and adapting (CLA) events commonly assemble partners, teammates, and donors at the midpoint of a project to reflect on lessons learned, to analyze data and findings, and to strategize for both the remainder of a project and a sustainable future. Integrating CLA events into the program cycle ensures coordination, knowledge sharing, and relevancy.

Creative approaches and lively engagement are often difficult to employ in CLA events, but it was front and center in the unique approach taken by Ukraine’s USAID-funded Enhance Non-Governmental Actors and Grassroots Engagement (ENGAGE) activity. As the Senior M&E Officer for Pact ENGAGE said, “Learning is like growing a plant: you need seed, soil, and an enabling environment.”

To maximize engagement and make learning active and fun, the ENGAGE team piloted a theater-based approach to its midterm CLA events, transforming its office into a stage for its civil society organization partners. Acknowledging the participatory and dynamic value-added by presenting learning through drama, Ukraine’s civil society actors opted to set aside PowerPoint presentations and instead become performers, entering a zone of inspired collaboration. This learning event was rooted in the “dramaturgical sociology” tradition, fostering creativity and learning from a fresh perspective.

The event gathered staff, partners, and donors, for a collaborative and interactive three-day event, wherein all participants performed a series of dramatic interpretations. The dramaturgical sociology tradition stresses the importance of how everyday social encounters can make us more conscious of the audience, actors, and our surroundings. With this in mind, performers portrayed the roles of key participants in civil society and tackled real-world challenges faced by activists, leaders, and everyday Ukrainians. The learning event was comprised of three main components:

  • A traditional presentation of learning data with critical analysis
  • A series of theatrical plays, displaying the success factors and challenges around key themes and
  • Reflection via a ‘World Café’ discussion, and co-creation with partners for future action.


Ayder Khalilov (Senior Program Manager) sets the stage for civil society partners.

In preparation for the event, ENGAGE team members researched and wrote analytical memos centered around ENGAGE’s objectives of regional participation, anti-corruption, inclusion, and civic education. After reflecting on the analytical memos, groups comprised of the ENGAGE team, their partners, and donors, created performances presenting the findings and their implications for the future of their project. Rather than providing a traditional presentation of data with Q&A, the performances encouraged participants to imagine themselves in the shoes of various actors, all crucial to a civil society organization’s growth, membership, and viability—thereby better enabling critical reflection and learning.

The dramaturgical productions offered much more than an opportunity for entertainment. They translated learning and evidence from monitoring and evaluation into living color. For example, in one act, participants portrayed the barriers young Ukrainians face in rural regions—where they may lack information and support from family—complicating their involvement in local governance and civil society organizations. In other acts, citizens and journalists learned to hold elected officials accountable, to write petitions to create better access to public transportation, and how to become better citizens by adopting new education and learning methodologies.

Participant performances fostered comradery, humor, energy, and insight, creating an enabling environment for learning that allowed the ENGAGE team to foster trust between stakeholders. The events created a shared culture of learning and understanding for subsequent discussions wherein grantees provided valuable feedback on their work to the ENGAGE team in a ‘World Café’ style discussion. The World Café chats were informal enough to allow civil society leaders to feel comfortable in sharing their ideas; it provided them with a platform to voice their concerns about current and future challenges, and roadmaps to future sustainability, often difficult subjects to address. This direct interaction provided partners with the opportunity to discuss their approach to sustainability, their vision of Ukraine’s civil society sector, and how their project could best advance that vision.

ENGAGE’s theatrical approach to CLA and subsequent discussions set the table for the activity’s civil society leaders to interpret and analyze data from their projects, and then apply their findings for implementation into programming via action plans. Through a highly collaborative ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach, the event sparked tangible user-centric solutions, serving the interest of civil society partners and their constituents—the people of Ukraine.

The theatrical approach to strategic collaboration injected life and energy into a learning event that marked an important inflection point for Ukraine’s post-Maidan civil society community. Above all, the event fostered a spirit of true collaboration—the partners felt listened to and like they were peers at the table with Pact and USAID. As one anonymous grantee remarked, “ENGAGE is the donor listening to partners in Ukraine.”

Filed Under: CLA in Action

Three Ways to Keep Employees Engaged and Improve Development Outcomes: Collaborate, Learn, and Adapt

Sep 3, 2019 by Kristin Lindell, Ilana Shapiro, Kat Haugh, Monalisa Salib Comments (0)

What does it take to increase income, decrease incidence rates of malaria, and reduce childhood malnutrition? Behind these ambitious goals lies a dedicated cadre of staff who work toward achieving these outcomes every single day. Regardless of the rigor of our theory of change and our monitoring, learning, and adapting, without an engaged team, reaching these goals becomes nearly impossible. In other words, people matter. A lot.

So, how can we ensure that staff consistently show up to work motivated and engaged, ready to produce at the highest level and support the achievement of development outcomes? Findings from five years of building the evidence base for collaborating, learning, and adapting (CLA) reveal that CLA is part of the ‘how.’

We recently produced a briefer that synthesizes the evidence from our multi-year, mixed methods evidence building efforts about CLA’s contribution to organizational effectiveness and development results.

Here are three things you need to know from our review:

  • Collaborating improves employee innovation, loyalty, and performance. When we intentionally collaborate, we can also create strategic alliances that generate savings in operating costs and increase productivity.
  • Learning efforts, such as learning agendas and communities of practice, support evidence-based decision-making and data-driven adaptations in organizations for improved development outcomes. Business sector research demonstrates that when learning is embedded in our organizational culture and processes, our organizations are more innovative and our team and organizational performance improves.
  • CLA is strongly and positively linked to indicators of organizational effectiveness including employee engagement, empowerment, and satisfaction. These findings fit within a growing body of evidence from both private- and public-sector research that recognizes employee engagement and empowerment as critical to successful organizational performance.

Now, you may be thinking – that’s great, but so what? How can I apply this evidence to myself or my team?

Given the evidence that systematic, intentional, and resourced CLA contributes to employee performance and ultimately improves development outcomes, integrating more CLA into your work is a good place to start. Try out some of the suggestions below to encourage increased CLA uptake in your workplace:

  • Pause and reflect for 15 minutes a day: Strengthen your learning practice by investing 15 minutes of your time at the end of each day to pause and reflect. Even this seemingly insignificant practice leads to improvements in productivity. If you’re a leader, ask your staff to try this practice with you for one week and debrief on the effects. As an individual, test this out and then share the impact it has had on you personally with your boss and colleagues.
  • Facilitate data-driven discussions: Improve the learning culture of your team by hosting a one-hour meeting at the end of each month to look at your program data and ask: where do we stand? What can we change? What should we keep doing? To make these meetings even more useful, make sure they align with pre-existing decision-making deadlines. Also, take your facilitation to the next level with these approaches.
  • Do the CLA Self-Assessment and Action Planning Process: If you want to help your team assess its current CLA practices and what it would like to change, facilitate the CLA Self-Assessment and Action Planning Process. For CLA Self-Assessment facilitation tips, review these resources.

Still feel like you need more? Make sure you check out our CLA Evidence Dashboard for additional evidence. Or, if you want more tools and approaches, don’t forget about the CLA Toolkit.

Remember, implementing CLA approaches to increase organizational effectiveness and ultimately improve development outcomes implies that we need to be willing to make an upfront investment in CLA. The evidence demonstrates that investing in CLA pays off. But, are you willing to invest? Let us know your thoughts about whether it’s worth it for you and your team by leaving us a comment below.

Learning Agendas Across Federal Agencies

Aug 14, 2019 by Laura Ahearn Comments (0)

With the passage of the Evidence-Based Policymaking Act in January 2019, each federal agency is now required to have an agency-level “evidence-building plan” -- in other words, a learning agenda. “The head of each agency shall include in the strategic plan required under section 306 a systematic plan for identifying and addressing policy questions relevant to the programs, policies, and regulations of the agency,” the Act states.

Because USAID is among the first federal agencies to put an agency-wide learning agenda in place, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) asked USAID to host a webinar on the topic, with a particular focus on the Self-Reliance Learning Agenda (SRLA). The webinar, entitled, “Developing USAID’s First Agency-wide Learning Agenda,” was held on July 16, 2019, and attracted 72 participants from 26 different federal agencies.

During the webinar, Stacey Young, Senior Learning Advisor and Team Lead of Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting (CLA) in the Office of Learning, Evaluation, and Research in the Bureau of Policy, Planning, and Learning (PPL/LER) at USAID, and Laura Ahearn, Senior Monitoring, Evaluation, Research, and Learning Specialist at Dexis/LEARN, discussed the process of developing the SRLA and shared how USAID leveraged lessons learned from a Learning Agenda Landscape Analysis, the Program Cycle Learning Agenda, and other recent learning efforts.

One of the main points of the webinar was that while every learning agenda’s creation process will differ, there are still some common steps that most take. In addition, there are several tips that were shared based on USAID’s experience:

  • Start with the end (UTILIZATION) in mind. Build relevance and buy-in by engaging from the beginning with end users. One of the key lessons shared in the webinar -- a lesson that is supported by research and experience in the fields of knowledge management and organizational learning -- is that people are more likely to use evidence if they have had a role in shaping it.
  • Build on existing learning efforts and try for some quick wins. It’s often possible to leverage existing learning activities for some short-term products. These can provide the learning agenda effort with valuable quick wins and can also lay the groundwork for longer-term results.
  • Put together a dedicated team with diverse skill sets. A dedicated team with diverse skill sets (such as research, adult learning, project management, program design, human centered design, relationship management, technical expertise, etc.) is crucial to success. Also be prepared to restructure the team or the effort periodically as needs change.
  • Don’t underestimate the staff, resources, and processes involved. Think carefully about the resources you will need not just to formulate questions for the learning agenda but also to implement it. Knowledge management in particular can be a challenge.
  • Plan for regular Pause & Reflect sessions to review progress. Look for frequent opportunities to pause and reflect on what’s working, what’s not, and what to do as a result.

The Learning Agenda Journey

Figure 1. Steps in the process of creating a learning agenda.

In the process of creating a learning agenda, it is important to recognize that the learning activities planned to address the learning agenda’s questions can involve a lot more than traditional research. In the visual below, you’ll notice that the learning activities for this hypothetical learning agenda include not only some standard quantitative or qualitative research studies and evaluations but also some experiential activities and peer-to-peer learning in order to allow for quicker feedback loops. Sometimes the activities can address multiple questions, so it is also important to plan carefully in order to use resources efficiently.

Learning Agenda Flow Chart

Figure 2. Many different kinds of learning activities can generate evidence that addresses the questions in a learning agenda.

The webinar concluded by reminding participants that learning agendas are ultimately about behavior change. Helping people internalize and use the evidence is therefore just as important as the actual questions themselves, if not more so.

The webinar hosts shared several resources on learning agendas, including the following:

Do you have tips for developing a learning agenda? Submit your feedback to


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