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CDCS Learning Approach

Emphasizing learning can add value both to the process of developing the CDCS and to its implementation over the five-year period it covers. Build on what your Mission already does well. It takes time to become an effective learning organization, so don't feel daunted and don't expect to change everything at once.

Recognizing that in almost all organizations there is room to improve strategies for acquiring, learning from, and managing useful information that can enhance program effectiveness, USAID's CDCS encourages Missions to develop and implement a plan that will help the Mission and its partners benefit from a continuous learning process that is focused squarely on the achievement of the strategy's Development Objectives and the CDCS Goal.

Learning Plans in Missions are envisioned as one of several important elements in USAID's Strategic Learning Plan which is outlined in a presentation given to USAID Senior Staff in the Spring of 2012 and in a draft Learning Guide that is being prepared by PPL/LER. Both of these products are available thorough this kit page. They complement instructions provide in USAID's CDCS Guidance on the preparation of a Learning Plan for a CDCS and other materials provided on USAID's Learning Lab portal.

What a CDCS Learning Plan Addresses

Learning approaches should provide for:

  • Facilitating coordination, collaboration, and exchange of experiential knowledge internally and with external stakeholders;
  • Testing development hypotheses, filling critical knowledge gaps, and addressing uncertainties in the hypotheses with new research or syntheses of existing analyses;
  • Ensuring new learning, innovations, and performance information gained through monitoring and evaluation inform strategy implementation; and
  • Identifying and monitoring game changers—the broad conditions that are beyond the Mission's control but could evolve to impede strategy implementation—based on associated tripwires that may trigger programmatic and project contingencies or even changes in strategic direction.

Most Missions already gather performance monitoring information, undertake evaluations, hold portfolio reviews, and meet with their government and other implementing partners. Fewer, however, are easily able to say what they learned from monitoring and evaluating elements of their portfolio; what they did differently because they acquired these types of information; how they acted on an evaluation recommendation or findings reported in a recent string of journal articles in a particular field; or how a portfolio review decision improved the effectiveness of the Mission's program. Learning approaches, as this suggests, may not necessarily require larger investments in information acquisition. They may, however, require a reallocation of what many Mission staff view as being their scarcest resource: time.

Among the already completed CDCSs there are several that have well-developed learning approaches that are available on the USAID Country Strategies webpage. Of these, USAID has identified the USAID/Uganda Collaborating, Learning and Adapting (CLA) Plan as incorporating many of the features it hopes to see in Mission Learning Plans.