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Activity Design

Activity design is the process by which USAID further defines how it will implement an activity that contributes achieving the intended results of a project. An activity funds an intervention or set of interventions, typically through an implementing mechanism such as a contract, assistance program, or partnership with another U.S. Government Agency, the partner country government, other donors and development assistance agencies, NGOs, and the private sector. It may also be an intervention undertaken directly by USAID staff that contributes to achieving a Project Purpose such as policy dialogue, capacity building services, or coordination with stakeholders.

USAID uses the term activity to identify project components that are being implemented by country partners or by other organizations USAID has funded to carry out specific tasks under a contract, cooperative agreement, grant or other arrangement, as outlined in the table below that links activities to projects.

Project A project is a set of complementary activities, over an established timeline and budget, intended to achieve a discrete development result, often aligned with an Intermediate Result (IR) in the CDCS Results Framework. Taken together, a Mission’s suite of project designs provides the operational plans for achieving the objectives in its CDCS or other applicable strategic plan.
Activity An activity carries out an intervention, or set of interventions, typically through a contract, grant, or agreement with another U.S. Government agency or with the partner country government. An activity also may be an intervention undertaken directly by Mission staff that contributes to a project, such as a policy dialogue. In most cases, multiple activities are needed to ensure the synergistic contributions necessary to achieve the project’s desired results.

The step-wise linkages from programs, through projects, to activities are also prominent in the way in which activity designs are prepared and in activity M&E Plans. For every program-level Development Objective (DO) USAID approves, there must be both a Results Framework and a Performance Management Plan (PMP). At the project level, the tools USAID uses shift, and for each project USAID requires a Logical Framework and an associated MEL Plan. Projects are tightly integrated and share some of their key results and indicators as explained on the website’s CDCS to Project Linkages page.

Close linkages extend downward as well, from Projects to the activities that support them with some results and indicators being shared between these two levels, as the USAID ADS 203 diagram below suggests.

USAID ADS 203 diagram

ADS 201.3.4 on Activity Design and Implementation highlights a number of desirable characteristics that USAID staff are of encouraged to incorporate into activity designs. These includes structuring new activities to:

  • Achieve clear and measurable results
  • Strengthen local systems so that local actors continue to sustain key results after the activity ends
  • Build opportunities for adaptive management into the design and implementation of activities, i.e., activity designs should include sufficient flexibility to allow for adjustments in response to emerging opportunities and knowledge
  • Foster approaches that support Innovation, co-creation, and/or co-design with both USAID and its future partners making contributions to an activity’s design.

For activities that will be implemented through an implementing mechanism or legal agreement, the activity design process typically culminates in a solicitation or the negotiation of an agreement. ADS outlines a six step process for activities identified for implementation through a USAID acquisition and assistance (A&A) mechanism.

All activities that involve A&A awards are expected to have Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) Plans. Information on preparing an Activity level MEL Plan is provided on the following page.