Introducing Leaders in Learning, a New Podcast Series from USAID Learning Lab

Jun 13, 2018 by Piers Bocock, Stacey Young Comments (0)
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Evidence and experience show that leadership plays a key role in creating and sustaining organizational learning and knowledge management initiatives. So what does it take to be an effective leader in learning?  

USAID Learning Lab is launching a new podcast series this summer to explore this question. Leaders in Learning is a 7-part podcast series hosted by Stacey Young, Senior Learning Advisor and Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting Team Lead in USAID’s Bureau for Policy, Planning, and Learning; and Piers Bocock, Chief of Party for the USAID LEARN contract. The series draws on interviews that Stacey and Piers conducted with a variety of thought leaders in organizational learning and knowledge management in the international development sector, including:

  • Kerry Albright, UNICEF
  • Rob Cartridge, Practical Action
  • Chris Collison, Knowledgeable
  • Alison Evans, Independent Commission for Aid Impact
  • Duncan Green, OXFAM
  • Gwen Hines, DFID
  • Clive Martlew, DFID
  • Karen Mokate, Inter-American Development Bank
  • Tony Pryor, USAID’s Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning
  • Thom Sinclair, The World Bank

Episodes 1 and 2 are now available to stream here on USAID Learning Lab or wherever you listen to podcasts. Listen to the first episode for an overview of the series including its purpose, theory of change, and to meet the lineup of the experts whose interviews provide the food for thought in each episode. Click here to view the Episode 1 transcript.

In Episode 2, Piers and Stacey reflect on their conversations with Duncan Green, Gwen Hines, and Karen Mokate (pictured with Piers and Stacey, right) on the topic of why learning matters in international development. They frame learning as a tool for addressing complexity, improving the way teams and organizations work, and, most importantly, achieving better development results. Click here to view the Episode 2 transcript.

Join Stacey and Piers for the rest of the series as they grapple with these learning questions:

  • Episode 3: What is the role of evidence and data in organizational learning? (Tuesday, June 19)
  • Episode 4: What is the relationship between organizational culture and learning? (Tuesday, June 26)
  • Episode 5: What is the role of leaders in creating a learning organization? (Tuesday, July 3)
  • Episode 6: What do leaders in learning have to say about integrating intentional learning into everyday work? (Tuesday, July 10)
  • Episode 7: What is the future of organizational learning in international development? (Tuesday, July 17)

You can stream new episodes here on USAID Learning Lab or search for “USAID Learning Lab” wherever you listen to podcasts.

We hope you enjoy it!

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Stopping to Think: Why it Pays to Pause and Reflect (Inside Out Episode 5)

May 30, 2018 by Amy Leo Comments (0)
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Episode 5 of From the Inside Out: Achieving Better Development Outcomes through Collaborating, Learning and Adapting is now available! Stream it above or subscribe to the USAID Learning Lab podcast wherever you listen to podcasts to be notified when new episodes are available.

In the final episode in the Inside Out series, we discuss a topic that we’ve touched on throughout the series: Pause and Reflect. Taking the time to Pause and Reflect is an essential CLA practice that leads to evidence-based decision making and adaptation.

First, we’ll explore evidence that group reflection leads to learning and decision-making. Next, we will discuss two opportunities for USAID staff and partners to use Program Cycle processes to pause and reflect. In our third segment, we discuss some of the ways that our team has built Pause and Reflect moments into the way we work.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

While this series is wrapping up, we’ve got another one in the works! Listen until the end of this episode for a preview of our upcoming series, Leaders in Learning, which will be released starting in mid-June 2018.

The information in this series comes from our effort to build the evidence base for collaborating, learning and adapting. If you’re interested in learning more about this area of work, visit USAIDLearningLab.org/eb4cla.

Staying in the Loop: How to Learn from your Data (Inside Out Episode 4)

May 22, 2018 by Amy Leo Comments (1)
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Episode 4 of From the Inside Out: Achieving Better Development Outcomes through Collaborating, Learning and Adapting was released today! Stream it above or subscribe to the USAID Learning Lab podcast wherever you listen to podcasts to be notified when new episodes are available.

Evidence-based decision-making is a powerful tool for transforming USAID from the Inside Out. In this episode, we’ll talk about where we see this happening in other industries, and why it can be challenging at USAID. We will also discuss two examples of innovative learning initiatives at USAID missions.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

We’re releasing a new episode each Tuesday in May, so subscribe to the USAID Learning Lab podcast wherever you listen to podcasts (iTunesStitcherPocketCasts) to find out when new episodes are available. You can also find them posted as blogs here on USAID Learning Lab.

The information in this series comes from our effort to build the evidence base for collaborating, learning and adapting. If you’re interested in learning more about this area of work, visit USAIDLearningLab.org/eb4cla.

Meeting Strategically: How to Collaborate, But Not Too Much (Inside Out Episode 3)

May 15, 2018 by Amy Leo Comments (0)
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Episode 3 of From the Inside Out: Achieving Better Development Outcomes through Collaborating, Learning and Adapting was released today! Stream it above or subscribe to the USAID Learning Lab podcast wherever you listen to podcasts to be notified when new episodes are available.

Research says that 20-35% of value-add collaboration comes from only 3-5% of employees. As a result, those high collaborators score low on engagement and career satisfaction. In addition, the lion’s share of collaborative work tends to fall on women, and people of color are often over-burdened by requests to collaborate (citation).

In this episode, we discuss evidence on the negative effects of over-collaboration and reflect on our teams' collaboration. Next, we talk about six strategies for strategic collaboration with examples from USAID programs.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Bonus! We've created a coloring page to go along with the episode. Listen with your team and tweet photos of your colored-in pages to @USAIDlearning.

We’re releasing a new episode each Tuesday in May, so subscribe to the USAID Learning Lab podcast wherever you listen to podcasts (iTunesStitcherPocketCasts) to find out when new episodes are available. You can also find them posted as blogs here on USAID Learning Lab.

The information in this series comes from our effort to build the evidence base for collaborating, learning and adapting. If you’re interested in learning more about this area of work, visit USAIDLearningLab.org/eb4cla.

Four Tips for a Winning CLA Case Competition Submission

May 14, 2018 by Amy Leo Comments (0)
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These four tips address the most common issues we see in Collaborating, Learning and Adapting (CLA) Case Competition submissions. So, in the final weeks before the deadline (Thursday, May 31!), take advantage of these tips to help your case stand out.

1. Call It What It Is

Collaborating, learning, and adapting is just one of the many terms used to describe adaptive approaches to development, and we do not penalize submissions that describe CLA approaches without calling them CLA. However, there are some important differences between CLA and market systems approaches, doing development differently, and thinking and working politically, just to name a few. If you’re describing a specific, named system or approach that relates to CLA, be transparent about that and explicitly point out the interconnections between CLA and that approach. Don’t simply equate it with CLA without explanation.

Example: Catholic Relief Services' 2017 Winning Case Making Connections, Measuring Results: CLA in a Food Security Program in Zambia clearly describes the connections between CLA and an Evaluative Thinking (ET) approach they took in their activity, outlining how the skills and mindset encouraged by ET also strengthened CLA, and particularly the ability to adapt.

2. Focus on the CLA Aspects of your Case

Descriptions of technical work should only set the stage for your case, not take it over. In your responses, be sure to use the majority of the space in your submission form to describe theCLA approach itself. Don’t get into the weeds describing aspects of your project that don’t relate to your CLA approach.

Pro Tip: If you’re writing about the implementation of a new tool, be sure to focus on how the tool is used for collaborating, learning and/or adapting not the details of the implementation itself. Winning cases describe comprehensive, ongoing CLA.

Example: See The Manoff Group’s response to Question 4 in their 2017 Winning Case Stop, Reflect, Improve: Using CLA to Engage Men to Improve Women and Children's Health. They describe when and how they knew they needed to adapt their project, as well as all of the pivot points and decisions that contributed to its new direction. Any details about their project only serve to provide context for their CLA approach.

3. Connect the Dots

Question 2 of the 2018 Case Study Submission Form asks the submitter to describe the organizational or development challenge that prompted them to collaborate, learn and adapt. Strong cases clearly connect this challenge with their CLA approach, and then, in Questions 5 and 6, connect their CLA approach with outcomes. Be sure that this story arc comes through in your case.

Pro Tip: Winning cases describe comprehensive, ongoing CLA.  If you’re writing about a conference or other one-off event, be sure to strengthen your case by explaining how the event fostered CLA in a sustained and ongoing way.

Example: CARE’s 2017 Winning Case Practice What You Preach: A Tool for Staff Transformation clearly communicates the challenge at hand, what the team did to address it, and the results.

4. Provide Enough Detail

Winning cases will be featured as examples for others to follow, so step back and determine whether your submission provides enough detail for a reader to replicate your approach. Too much detail, however, may make your case less relatable for others. The guiding questions under question 4 are meant to help you determine what level of detail is needed--if you address each of them in the space provided, you’re likely on target.

Example: USAID/Jordan’s 2017 Winning Case No One Can Know Everything: Collaborating for Better Evaluation Recommendations describes the decision-making process surrounding their CLA approach and states who was involved in each step. The submitter also utilized all of the allotted space to include this level of detail. Go ahead and fill the page!

Staying Curious, Together: How to Create a Learning Culture (Inside Out Episode 2)

May 8, 2018 by Amy Leo Comments (2)
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Episode 2 of From the Inside Out: Achieving Better Development Outcomes through Collaborating, Learning and Adapting was released today! Stream it below or subscribe to the USAID Learning Lab podcast wherever you listen to podcasts to be notified when new episodes are available.

In the first episode of the series, we talked about the characteristics to look for when building an adaptable, learning-focused team.

In this episode, we’ll discuss the key ingredients in a learning culture. First, we define what we mean by a learning culture. Next, we look at research that examines the relationship between CLA and measures of staff satisfaction and empowerment at USAID. And in our third segment, we talk about a successful staff empowerment initiative at a USAID mission.

Episode 2 Coloring Page

Bonus! We've created a coloring page to go along with the episode. Listen with your team and tweet photos of your colored-in pages to @USAIDlearning.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

We’re releasing a new episode each Tuesday in May, so subscribe to the USAID Learning Lab podcast wherever you listen to podcasts (iTunesStitcherPocketCasts) to find out when new episodes are available. You can also find them posted as blogs here on USAID Learning Lab.

The information in this series comes from our effort to build the evidence base for collaborating, learning and adapting. If you’re interested in learning more about this area of work, visit USAIDLearningLab.org/eb4cla.

Going Beyond Technical Skills: How to build an adaptive team (Inside Out Episode 1)

May 1, 2018 by Amy Leo Comments (0)
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Episode 1 of From the Inside Out: Achieving Better Development Outcomes through Collaborating, Learning and Adapting was released today! Stream it above or subscribe to the USAID Learning Lab podcast wherever you listen to podcasts (iTunesStitcher) to be notified when new episodes are available.

Synopsis:

If change starts with people, then what should we consider when building collaborative, learning-focused teams? When development isn’t a linear process and success depends on much more than a set of technical skills, what kinds of skills and qualities should you look for when hiring?

In this episode, you’ll hear from three development practitioners with insight on this question. (And if you’re wondering how to build a learning culture on your existing team, we’ve got you covered. Be sure to tune in to our next episode, released on Tuesday, May 8, which is on this very topic.)

Coloring Page GIF

Bonus! We've created a coloring page to go along with the episode. Listen with your team and tweet photos of your colored-in pages to @USAIDlearning.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Share your thoughts on the episode by commenting below. And if you like the podcast, please rate it in iTunes. This will help people like you find it!

We’re releasing a new episode each Tuesday in May, so subscribe to be notified when new episodes are available. You can also find them posted as blogs here on USAID Learning Lab.

The information in this series comes from our effort to build the evidence base for collaborating, learning and adapting. If you’re interested in learning more about this area of work, visit USAIDLearningLab.org/eb4cla.

Introducing: From the Inside Out, A New Podcast Series from USAID Learning Lab

Apr 23, 2018 by Amy Leo Comments (0)
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USAID Learning Lab is back with a new podcast series called From the Inside Out: Achieving Better Development Outcomes through Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting. Our four-episode pilot series, Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting at USAID, provided an overview of the concept of CLA and featured deep-dive CLA case studies.

From the Inside Out was designed to empower USAID staff and partners with evidence, tips, and tools to collaborate, learn, and adapt in their day-to-day work.

It covers the following topics:

Listen as Stacey Young, Senior Learning Advisor and CLA Team Lead in USAID’s Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning, Ian Lathrop, Communications Manager on the USAID LEARN contract, and Amy Leo, Communications Specialist on the USAID LEARN contract, discuss evidence on these topics from development and other fields, reflect on their own work experience, and share examples from USAID projects.

From the teaser episode:

“International development is a complex process, and we don’t always get it right. We don’t always coordinate with local partners as we should. We work in silos. Changes in the local context obstruct our plans. And we continue to implement programs that aren’t meeting our goals. 

But USAID and its partner organizations are made up of motivated people who want to do better. This podcast is for you. Here at USAID Learning Lab, we believe that we all have a role in improving organizational effectiveness, and, ultimately, achieving better development outcomes. Change starts with people like you and me using evidence and tools to work more collaboratively with our local partners, learn from the data we collect, and adapt our programs accordingly.

In this series, we’ll talk about how you can build an adaptive team, create a learning culture, collaborate strategically, use the data you collect, and pause and reflect along the way. So, whether you work for USAID or a partner organization, we hope that this series helps you work more effectively. Together, we can improve the results achieved by USAID, and the development sector at large, from the inside out.”

We’re releasing a new episode each Tuesday in May, so subscribe to the USAID Learning Lab podcast wherever you listen to podcasts (iTunes, Stitcher, PocketCasts) to find out when new episodes are available. You can also find them posted as blogs here on USAID Learning Lab.

The information in this series comes from our effort to build the evidence base for collaborating, learning and adapting. If you’re interested in learning more about this area of work, visit USAIDLearningLab.org/eb4cla.

Enter USAID's 2018 Collaborating, Learning and Adapting Case Competition!

Apr 9, 2018 by Amy Leo Comments (0)
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  • Is your organization creating a learning culture?
  • Do you pause and reflect?
  • Have you implemented evaluation recommendations?
  • Are you collaborating with local partners to build self-reliance?

If so, we want to hear about it, and about other ways you’re collaborating, learning and adapting for better development results!

The submission period for the 2018 Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting (CLA) Case Competition is Monday, April 9 - Thursday, May 31.

The CLA Case Competition captures case studies of USAID staff and implementing partners using a CLA approach for organizational learning and better development outcomes. This is not a call for traditional success stories; we want to hear what’s working well, what you’re struggling with, and what you’ve learned along the way. It can be about something big, or about one small practice that made an important difference to your work.

Not sure if what you’re doing is CLA? Curious about how to frame your work? You’re invited to join a kickoff webinar on Tuesday, April 10 from 12:00-1:00 PM that will provide tips for writing about your CLA experience and explain what we're looking for in case study submissions.

Your submission will showcase your team’s innovation and expertise, helping us all move the needle on strategic collaboration, continuous learning, and adaptive management. All eligible case studies will be featured on ProgramNet and USAID Learning Lab, and may be shared via blog posts, Twitter, and at CLA events in Washington, DC and beyond. Over the past three years, the CLA case competition has sourced and published over 160 examples of CLA in action, and has launched a continuing dialogue and process of shared learning.

Click here for details on how to enter.

The Results of CLA Challenge Week

Feb 13, 2018 by Amy Leo, Kat Haugh Comments (0)
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CLA Challenge Week Graphic

Amy Leo is a Communications Specialist and Kat Haugh is a Monitoring Evaluation, Research and Learning Specialist on the USAID LEARN contract.

Our goal for Collaborating, Learning and Adapting (CLA) Challenge Week was to inspire USAID staff and partners to start the new year with a new CLA practice. Given that 70 individuals and teams of USAID staff and partners joined the CLA Sprint, we consider it a success in terms of participation.

But we were also interested in the results of the CLA practices tried during the week. We had prompted participants to choose CLA practices that would help them get one step closer to achieving their organizational or development goals. So, did they? How did CLA help?

Bar chart about How CLA helped people get closer to their organizational or development outcomeAfter CLA Challenge Week, we sent a survey to all participants to collect information about their experience. One of the questions asked, “How did your CLA practice help you get closer to achieving your organizational or development goals?” We analyzed 42 responses (a 60% response rate) and noticed five overarching themes. We then coded each response to one or two of those themes.

So, what did participants say about how using a CLA approach helped them get closer to achieving their organizational or development goals? Below, we explore examples of these five themes and how these CLA practices are supported by evidence about the contribution CLA makes to achieving better outcomes.

Theme 1: Improved Knowledge Sharing

The most common theme, with 22 occurrences, was improved knowledge sharing. CLA Challenge Week prompted USAID staff and partners to think about how they could be more strategic in sharing technical information and learning with the right people, and bringing the right stakeholders to the table for reflection and decision-making.

For example:

  • RTI International's International Development Group convened their Monitoring, Evaluation, Research, Learning and Adapting (MERLA) Community of Practice to share how members are implementing CLA in their projects and divisions. Click here to watch their CLA Challenge Week video.
  • USAID’s Avansa Agrikultura Project experimented with using a new tool, WhatsApp, to allow staff working in the field to message all staff for assistance or recommendations. This form of communication has allowed solutions to be suggested in real time to farmers, reducing various types of risks. The tool has increased their effectiveness in encouraging more sustainable agriculture practices.

These examples remind us of a finding from our analysis of CLA Case Competition submissions: knowledge management generates standard good practices for broader application. In addition, we know from our research that quality knowledge management systems have a significant impact on project performance. Learn more about this evidence.

Theme 2: Paused & Reflected for Adaptation

Seventeen CLA Challenge Week commitments involved individual or group reflection on programmatic data, work plans, and processes to feed into adaptation.

For Example:

  • RTI International’s StopPalu+ team implemented mini Pause & Reflect sessions into their work planning processes, discussing what they learned that day and how they could adjust their activities for the next day. This helped them to identify successful strategies for working with their partners to develop activities and adaptations. It also introduced the concept of CLA to the wider StopPalu+ team.
  • Tetra Tech’s Technology for Development (T4D) Department reviewed their work plan to identify the challenges they have faced so far and successes they would like to replicate moving forward. They updated their work plan accordingly and re-prioritized their activities based on lessons learned and changing needs.
  • Melissa Bevins, of the USAID LEARN contract, intentionally paused and reflected about her day on her commute home each evening. She discovered that she needs to be more intentional about guarding time between meetings to allow time for following up on the action items that come out of meetings, as well as to recharge her introverted self.

This echoes the evidence we’ve found that taking the time to pause and reflect on our work is critical to learning and improved performance. Learn more about this evidence.

Theme 3: Used Data for Decision-Making

Nine individuals and teams committed to improve their use of data for evidence-based decision-making during CLA Challenge Week.

For Example:

  • American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative is committed to improving their use of program data for decision making and focused on data visualization during CLA Challenge Week. They scheduled a meeting to kick off a series of hands-on practices paired with data visualization capacity building.
  • Phong Nguyen from CRS Vietnam committed to “increase the use of data/evidence for programmatic decision making in project teams to enhance program quality". She reports that “this practice increased the ownership of learning as we collaborated to produce learning and evidence and [make] evidence-based decisions.”

We know from a June 2016 World Bank study that Monitoring & Evaluation are positively and significantly associated with achieving development outcomes when incorporated into program management and designed to support learning and decision making. Learn more about this evidence.

Theme 4: Increased Intentionality

Good CLA is intentional, systematic, and resourced. We found that CLA Challenge Week prompted participants to be more intentional about their CLA approach or be more intentional in their work.

Pie chart about CLA Challenge Week

For Example:

  • USAID/Liberia and Liberia Strategic Analysis (implemented by Social Impact) reported that using CLA made them focus more intentionally on their government transition activity. During a weekly strategic planning meeting, the team revisited the strategic action plan that led the initial phases of their planning processes.
  • Charlotta Sandin, of USAID/Uganda’s Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Contract, says that her CLA practice “reminded me of, and helped me keep the bigger picture in mind when organizing and managing the details. By updating and re-reading the concept of Mental Models (Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge) and trying to apply the knowledge into daily work, we could plan for the field based portfolio reviews to be even more valuable to the mind shift that needs to be kept up to operationalize USAID/Uganda's new strategy.”

And, about two-thirds of CLA Challenge Week participants reported that their CLA practice was prompted by the CLA Sprint. As with anything, sometimes the best intentions just need a nudge to become action.

Theme 5: Used CLA Challenge Week to Spread the Word about CLA

For some participants, CLA Challenge Week was an opportunity to start or continue a discussion about CLA with their teams or organizations. Some held workshops on CLA, revisited CLA action plans, and strategized about how they might integrate CLA into programming.

For example:

While we believe and have evidence that CLA is worth the investment, we do know that it can be challenging to convince others of this. It can be helpful to start with the message that “you are already doing CLA” and drawing on our Evidence Base for CLA (EB4CLA) resources to make the case. From our research about what it takes to create a learning organization, we know leadership support is essential, so this may be a good place to start.

CLA Begets More CLA

We noticed another overarching theme in response to the question “What might you try next week (or sometime in the future) to build on what you've started?”: CLA begets more CLA, and sometimes leads to scale-up. This theme also appeared in our analysis of the 2015 CLA Case Competition submissions (see Finding 5).

Here are some examples of how CLA Challenge Week participants plan to continue and scale-up their CLA practices:

Name & Organization

CLA Commitment

Future Plans

Katie Grant, InterAction

Developed of a survey for CoP members to identify priority learning areas for 2018 discussion, helping us build the evidence base for Results-Based Protection and identify areas of further inquiry.

In the coming week, our team will analyze the results of the CoP members' survey to be presented at the upcoming CoP meeting, where we will also discuss our CLA reflections, and solicit CLA approaches participants are using in their own teams/ organizations.

Ann Hendrix-Jenkins, Pact

It prompted me to process notes from an external community of practice meeting in a new way, and one that would work with the parameters of privacy and fostering a safe space for people to be frank.

Depending on feedback from the other participants, maybe we will keep the idea map as a founding and organizing document, that we keep modifying. The iterations will be a way of tracking changes and progress.

Jessica Mirabella, USAID/BRIDGE Project

Last week, the project team convened a learning meeting with our USAID counterparts to review current MEL practices, introduce a pair of new learning capture processes, and spend time discussing a learning question focused on one of the project’s strategic approaches.

In upcoming weeks, we’ll be actively testing the new learning capture tools that we discussed in the meeting.

Fun at Work?

Launching CLA Challenge Week was its own CLA experiment for the USAID Learning Lab team. We’ve never done anything like this and had no idea if people would sign up or take it seriously. So, we were pleasantly surprised by the level of participation and positive feedback about the experience.

We heard:

  • “Thank you for putting out this challenge! It was fun!”-  Cory Ragsdale, Training Resources Group
  • “Thanks for this well-conceived prompt. It changed my behavior--inspired me to be more creative and thoughtful…” - Ann Hendrix-Jenkins, Pact
  • “We really enjoyed participating in CLA Challenge Week and would love to see similar events.” - Molly Chen, RTI International

We share these comments not to brag about our success, but to point out that participants found enjoyment and satisfaction in trying a new approach to their work. We know from our analysis of USAID’s FEVS data that for employees at USAID missions, CLA is strongly, positively, and significantly related to employee engagement, empowerment, satisfaction, and perceived organizational effectiveness. It’s also true that continuous learning is linked with job satisfaction, empowerment, employee engagement and, ultimately, improved performance and outcomes.

As unanticipated outcomes go, “fun” is a pretty good one! We plan to build on and iterate this experiment in the future, so sign up for our mailing list to find out about future sprints.

Click on the photo below to view an album of photos submitted by CLA Challenge Week participants.

CLA Challenge Week

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